Over 3,730 terrorists have been “neutralized” since the start of Operation Olive Branch in Afrin, northwestern Syria, Turkey’s president said on Friday.
Addressing a gathering ahead of the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party’s Bagcilar district congress in Istanbul, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the number of “neutralized” terrorists in Afrin was increasing.
Turkish authorities often use the word "neutralized" in their statements to imply the terrorists in question either surrendered or were killed or captured.
In a bid to reiterate Turkey’s decisive fight against terrorists, Erdogan also said the country's counterterrorism fight would not end with Afrin.
“It will be followed by Idlib and Manbij [Syria],” he added.
In a separate address at Beyoglu district congress, Erdogan said: “As of now, 3,732 terrorists have been neutralized in Afrin and Sinjar [northern Iraq].”
“Our struggle [against terrorism] continues, and it will,” he added.
Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20 to clear terrorist groups from Afrin in northwestern Syria amid growing threats from the region.
On Sunday, Turkish-backed troops liberated the town of Afrin, which had been a major hideout for the PYD/PKK since 2012.
In the face of persistent smear campaigns against the operation, the Turkish General Staff has repeatedly said that the objective of the operation is to "establish security and stability along Turkey's borders and the region as well as protect Syrians from terrorist cruelty and oppression."
The operation is being carried out under the framework of Turkey's rights based on international law, UN Security Council resolutions, its self-defense rights under the UN charter, and respect for Syria's territorial integrity, it said.
The military also said only terror targets are being destroyed and "utmost care" is being taken to not harm civilians.
- 'Double standards'
Speaking during the congress in Bagcilar, Erdogan criticized Europe for showing “double-standards” on human rights.
Recalling mass civilian killings in Syria’s Idlib and besieged Eastern Ghouta, Islamophobic and racist attacks in Germany and civilian oppression in Palestine, Erdogan said: "We object to the double-standards which European administrations exhibit and which cannot be explained morally.”
According to Interior Ministry records, there were at least 37 attacks in the first three months of the year, which targeted Turkish mosques, associations and shops in various cities, including Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Aachen.
Since Feb. 19, nearly 1,000 people have been killed in Eastern Ghouta, which has remained under a crippling regime siege for the last five years that has prevented the delivery of much needed humanitarian supplies.