By Nilay Kar Onum
The next step of the Turkish-led Operation Olive Branch in Syria’s Afrin region is to stabilize and secure regions cleared from PYD/PKK terrorists, Turkish presidential spokesman said on Monday.
Speaking to Al Jazeera English live broadcast, Ibrahim Kalin said: “We have completed an important phase in the Afrin operation and the next step will be to secure the areas because there are still mines and traps and IEDs […] placed in different parts of the city.”
“We want to make sure that all the soldiers and the civilians, Free Syrian Army, our own soldiers and the local people are safe and secure.
“We are in the process of stabilizing and securing the regions cleared from PYD/YPG terrorists,” he added.
The Turkish troops and Free Syrian Army fighters took control of the Afrin town center early on Sunday as part of Operation Olive Branch, which was launched on Jan. 20 to clear the area of YPG/PKK-Daesh terrorists.
Kalin drew parallel with Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch in Afrin and last year’s Operation Euphrates Shield conducted between Jarablus and Al Rai areas in northern Syria.
Turkey's Operation Euphrates Shield began in August 2016 and ended in late March 2017 to improve security, support coalition forces, and eliminate the terror threat along the Turkish border.
“We’ve cleared more than 2,000 square kilometers area from Daesh terrorists at that time and we’ve returned those places; cities and towns back to their local owners.
“Now, there are no PYD, YPG, no Daesh and no regime forces there. It is run by local people.”
“We anticipate a similar situation in Afrin," Kalin said, adding: "Those, who had to flee because of the regime attacks or because of the PYD/YPG will go back to their homes.
“We are making our plans to make sure that they go back safely and run their businesses,” he added.
In response to a question on claims that there have been some looting incidents and destruction of some Kurdish symbols in Afrin during the Operation Olive Branch, Kalin said: “There might be some groups here and they may be involved in that kind of action. We take that very seriously and necessary measures will be taken to address that issue.”
He added: “We have not bombarded the city. Our soldiers and Free Syrian Army fighters have been very careful in avoiding civilian casualties. They’d been very careful in not attacking any of the houses or historical sites.”
“We want to assure everyone in Afrin as well as those, who had to flee to Turkey, Aleppo or other places that Afrin will be a safe place for them to return,” the presidential spokesman said.
Kalin noted Turkey coordinated the Operation Olive Branch with Russia, Iran and the U.S. and it has been very “transparent,” from the very beginning.
New US Secretary of State
In regards to CIA Director Mike Pompeo being named the new U.S. Secretary of State, he said: “Ministers may change, other officials may change but the key policies are expected to remain the same.
“The agreements that we’ve reached with our American counterparts, we hope they will be kept.”
Turkey and the U.S. have been trying to iron out a number of issues, principally concerning the terrorist YPG/PKK in Syria, a group the U.S. has worked with, calling it a "reliable ally" in the fight against Daesh.
Turkey has strongly protested, pointing to the YPG/PKK as the Syrian branch of the PKK, a terrorist group also recognized by the U.S. and EU which has taken some 40,000 lives in Turkey, including those of women and children.
The terrorist YPG/PKK is also a main target of the Turkish-led Operation Olive Branch in Afrin, Syria, near Turkey’s border, meant to eradicate the terrorist threat to both Syrians and residents of Turkish border regions.
Interview with CNN International
Later in the day, the presidential spokesman also gave an interview to CNN international.
He said the operation was launched to clear Afrin region of PYD/YPG terrorist group, which is Syrian branch of the PKK, the group listed as a terrorist organization in Turkey, EU and the U.S.
"So, those who are sincere and consistent about the fight against terrorism should be supporting Turkey in its efforts to clear its borders from terrorist elements," he added.
Kalin also compared the operations, which were conducted in Raqqa, Mosul, Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta, with Turkish Armed Forces' operation in Afrin.
"If you look at the before and after pictures of the liberation of the cities, I think our record is very clear," he said.
After the Turkish military and Free Syrian Army liberated the Afrin town center from YPG/PKK and Daesh terrorists on Sunday, fresh aerial footage showed that the civilians and buildings there remained unharmed.
When asked about Turkey's promises about giving the city of Afrin "to its real owners" and doubts over returning of tens of thousands of people back to the city, Kalin said: "First of all, we have to make a very clear distinction about PYD/YPG terrorists and the Kurds.
"We do not have anything against the Kurds, in fact we supported the Kurds in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. It was our president who raised the issue of Kurdish rights long before the Syrian war, long before anybody talked about Syrian Kurds or Kobane."
"I see a lot of of commentary in the western media, mixing up PYD/YPG and the Kurds. It's like saying: 'All Muslims are Daesh’."
"You have to make the distinction between PYD/YPG/PKK and the Kurds. As far as people in Afrin are concerned, many had to flee because of the oppression they were facing under PYD/YPG rule."
"When we liberated Jarabulus Azaz area through the Euphrates Shield Operation, 140,000 people returned to their homes," Kalin recalled.