President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Wednesday that he hopes Afrin town center controlled by the PKK-linked People’s Protection Units (YPG) will be fully encircled by Wednesday evening, noting that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are showing utmost care and sensitivity to prevent harm on civilians.
Speaking during a weekly meeting with local headmen at the Presidential Complex in Ankara, Erdoğan noted that civilians are being led out through a special corridor, despite obstructions by YPG militants aiming to use them as human shields to prevent Turkish air and artillery strikes.
Around 1,300 square kilometers of land have been cleared of YPG/PKK terrorists as of day 54 of Operation Olive Branch, Erdoğan added.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Turkish General Staff announced that at least 3,444 terrorists have been “neutralized” in Operation Olive Branch, which was launched in northwestern Syria’s Afrin on Jan. 20 to remove the PKK/PYD/YPG/KCK and Daesh terrorists.
The Turkish military uses the term “neutralized” in reference to terrorists captured dead or alive, or those who surrender during the operations. However, the term is usually used for the terrorists who have been killed in the operations.
According to the Turkish General Staff, the operation aims to establish security and stability along Turkish borders and in the region as well as to protect Syrian people from the oppression and cruelty of terrorists.
The operation is being carried out under the framework of Turkey’s rights within international law, U.N. Security Council resolutions, its right to self-defense under the U.N. charter and respect for Syria’s territorial integrity, it said.
The military also said, “utmost importance” is being placed on not harming any civilians.
The operation in Afrin – bordering Turkey’s Hatay and Kilis provinces – was widely expected in the wake of Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield in northern Syria, which cleared Daesh terrorists from Turkey’s border between Aug. 24, 2016, and March 2017.
Afrin has been a major hideout for the YPG/PKK since July 2012 when the Assad regime in Syria left the city to the terror group without putting up a fight.