By Sinan Uslu and Ilkay Guder
Turkish and Free Syrian Army forces have so far liberated 850 square kilometers (328 square miles) during the Turkish-led counter-terrorist operation in Afrin, Syria, Turkey’s president said on Saturday.
“To date 850 square kilometers have been taken under our control. The target is to get 2,000 square kilometers under our control,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a public rally in the southern Mersin province.
“Our concern isn’t the land; our concern is to clear terrorists from there. Where there are terrorists, we’ll be there,” he added.
Later, speaking at a ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party provincial congress, Erdogan announced that 3,213 terrorists have been “neutralized” since the launch of Operation Olive Branch in Afrin.
Turkish officials often use the word "neutralized" in their statements to imply the terrorists in question either surrendered or were killed or captured.
He added that Turkey will help Afrin to rebuild and repair, including its electricity, water, education, and healthcare systems, just like it did in Jarablus, Ar-rai, Azaz and Al-Bab, after clearing these Syrian cities of Daesh terrorists during Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield.
Euphrates Shield, which began in August in 2016 and ended in March 2017, eliminated terrorists along the Syrian border.
“Then we will also clear Manbij, Ayn al-Arab, Tal Abyad, Resulayn and Kamisli of terrorists,” Erdogan added, naming other Syrian cities near Turkey’s borders.
In his speech during another AK Party provincial congress in the coastal province of Antalya in western Turkey, Erdogan slammed terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh, which, he said, are shedding Muslim blood.
"Those who fight on the same side of these terrorist organizations have also shed only Muslim blood," Erdogan said.
He said another goal of these terror organizations is to disunite Muslims using so-called Islamic concepts.
"Those who insult Islam and the ones who use the concepts of our religion for this purpose, actually serve the same plan. Their target is Muslims," the president added.