On January 24, a group of men in Kilis, a Turkish town at the country’s Syrian border, gathered for evening prayers at the local mosque.
Minutes later, the 17th-century building was struck by missiles fired from Afrin, the north western tip of Syria, which claimed two lives and injured a dozen others. On Monday, a 17-year-old girl, Fatma Avlar, was killed in her sleep when a missile hit her home near the border. The assault was the latest in a long line of indiscriminate attacks against a peaceful community that hosts more Syrian refugees than its native population.
One of the victims of the most recent missile attacks was a Syrian refugee, who himself had moved to Turkey in an effort to escape the iron grip of PYD, which the Central Intelligence Agency describes as the terrorist organization PKK’s Syrian wing.
According to Amnesty International, PYD/YPG, which has been Washington’s main ally in Syria, has committed war crimes in Syria by razing villages and forcibly removing local communities from their native lands. Although the PYD and its military wing, YPG, claim to represent the Syrian Kurds, hundreds of thousands of Syrian Kurds have sought refuge in Turkey out of fear that they would face discrimination -- or worse.
Operation Olive Branch, which Turkey launched on January 20, aims to remedy this situation and create a safe environment in Northern Syria to facilitate the permanent return of Syrian refugees to their country. The primary goal of the operation is to clear Syrian territories of all terrorist groups, secure the Turkish-Syrian border and provide safety to the local population in Afrin and elsewhere. Contrary to the PKK propaganda, the Olive Branch Operation is not aimed against the Kurds of Syria but at a terrorist organization that has fought a bloody and dirty war against a key NATO ally, Turkey, for over 30 years.
It should be noted that the PKK, which Turkey and the United States consider a terrorist organization, uses Syrian territories to train militants, plan terror attacks and provide weapons and ammunition to PKK militants in Turkey. Over the last year alone, more than 700 attacks have been launched from the Afrin area under PYD/YPG control against Turkish cities. Turkey has had enough and decided to act.
Today, according to the United Nations, families in Afrin are "reportedly being prevented from leaving the area." At the same time, there are reports that members of local Christian communities have been kidnapped and forced to fight by the YPG forces.
The use of human shields to stop Turkey’s lawful steps in the region should ring alarm bells in the White House, which has been told by policymakers that the YPG was a reliable ally in Syria.
Those who fail to see the PKK threat in Syria are making a historic mistake.
Some Western allies see this as a distraction from the fight against ISIS, but this is not true. Eliminating all terrorist threats from Syria should be welcome as a right step to ensure peace and security and protect Syria’s territorial integrity. Furthermore, the Olive Branch Operation is fully legitimate within the framework of self-defense as it is enshrined in Article 51 of the UN Charter.
To be clear, Turkey’s current efforts are part of a long-term strategy to rebuild the war-torn country. In the wake of Operation Euphrates Shield, which resulted in the removal of ISIS terrorists from Jarabulus, Dabiq and Al-Bab in 2016, hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees have returned to their homes. In the recently liberated areas, Turkey rebuilt urban infrastructure, provided free health care to local residents and created local councils to ensure adequate political representation for all groups.
At the same time, Operation Olive Branch is an effort by Turkey and its allies to preserve the territorial integrity of Syria, where we continue to work toward genuine political change for the purpose of promoting peace, stability and security. From our perspective, peace in the Middle East will remain elusive unless the various stakeholders stop fuelling separatism and instead focus on creating strong democratic institutions to ensure peace, stability and freedom for all.
On various occasions, US officials have said that once the ISIS threat is over in Syria, they will no longer support PYD/YPG. This is not the case on the ground. The US military support to PYD/YPG raises questions about the ultimate goal of this policy.
As part of the international coalition, Turkey has fought against ISIS and cooperated with its allies in stopping, arresting and eliminating ISIS terrorists. It expects its allies to treat the PKK and its branches in the same way. It is deadly wrong to think that the PKK does not pose a threat to Western countries and therefore should be seen as Turkey’s problem. Terrorism is terrorism and ought to be fought in a determined and consistent manner.