Entering its seventh year, the conflict in Syria continues to be a direct threat to international security and regional stability. Turkey’s land border with Syria and Iraq, measuring 1,295 kilometers in length, requires Turkey to be alert to the developments within its neighbours (borders) and vigilant towards the security threats emanating from these countries.
Turkey’s national security is under the direct threat of Syria-based terrorist organisations, among which are ISIS, the PKK, and its Syrian affiliate the YPG are at the forefront. The recent increase in rocket attacks and harassment shooting – more than 700, so far – are directed at Turkey’s Hatay and Kilis provinces and orginate from the Afrin region in Syria, which is under the control of the PKK and YPG terrorist organisations. This has resulted in the death of scores of civilians and soldiers.
On the other hand, the recent advance of ISIS terrorists into the Afrin region from other parts of Syria has heightened the risk of ISIS elements infiltrating the Turkish-Syrian border and targeting the security of Turkey as well as EU countries.
It must be underscored that these terrorist groups are also a direct threat to the unity of Syria and are a main source of instability which impedes civilians to reside peacefully in their habitats.
The YPG’s real intention is not to fight ISIS or to protect Kurds and Yazidis. Their real aim is to force a demographic change and create separatist enclaves or terrorist hide-outs in the north of Syria.
In countering the threat of terrorism, Turkey’s response has always been measured and proportionate, in line with its international obligations and based on the right of self-defence. As such, Turkey has succesfully concluded “Operation Euphrates Shield” in 2017, through which 2,015 square kilometers of land was cleared from ISIS’ control and a safe-zone, free of terror, could be established, enabling thousands of displaced Syrians to return home.
To counter the recent surge of terrorist incursions and attacks on its territory, Turkey initiated “Operation Olive Branch” on January 20, 2018. “Operation Olive Branch” is not conducted against the Kurds of Syria. Neither does Turkey have an ulterior motive of invading or remaining in Syria.
It must be underlined that Turkey, unequivocally committed to the territorial integrity and political unity of Syria, has undertaken this measure with a view to reinforcing these basic principles and contributing to the efforts of the international community to reach a political solution in the framework of the Geneva Peace Talks.
Furthermore, “Operation Olive Branch” is aimed at ensuring our border security, neutralising terrorists in Afrin and preventing a demographic change in the north of the country, while helping Syrians to return to their homes as well as facilitating humanitarian assistance to the liberated areas through secured corridors.
As such, the operation targets only terrorists and their hideouts, shelters, emplacements, weapons, vehicles, and equipment. All precautions are taken to avoid collateral damage to the civilian population.
Turkey and the EU have common security interests when it comes to eradicating the terrorist threat emanating from the region and alleviating the migratory pressure caused by the mass influx of displaced millions fleeing bloodshed. It must be emphasized that Turkey remains staunchly committed to finding a genuine political solution to the conflict in Syria as outlined in the Geneva Communique and the respective UN Security Council Resolution (2254), and will continue its efforts to make this a reality as soon as possible.
In the meantime, it is vital that Turkey, an EU candidate and NATO ally, has the backing of its European allies and friends in addressing its legitimate security concerns, which contributes to the overall security and stability of the EU and beyond.