By Suleyman Elcin
ANTALYA, Turkey (AA) - Turkey's anti-terror operation in Afrin, northern Syria, foiled the PKK terror group's plans on turning the district into the world's largest drug center, country's Interior Minister said Friday.
"If we hadn't conducted Operation Olive Branch in Afrin, the PKK would have turned it into the world's largest drug center. This basically shows what we are facing," Suleyman Soylu said in an evaluation meeting in Turkey's southern province of Antalya on combating narcotics crimes.
Since 2016, Turkey launched a trio of successful anti-terrorist operations across its border into northern Syria to prevent the formation of a terror corridor: Operations Euphrates Shield (2016), Olive Branch (2018), and Peace Spring (October 2019).
Soylu stressed that instability, income inequality, terrorism and violence triggered by proxy wars have allowed a window for both drug trafficking and migration in the Middle East.
He accused Europe and the U.S. of inconsistency in their relationship with the PKK, saying that they have not hesitated to provide a lifeline to support the terror group, giving weapons and asylum, as well as financial resources.
"Since the PKK does not carry out armed terrorist activities in their countries, they turn a blind eye to the drug terrorism," Soylu said.
He underlined that while Turkey saw 657 drug-related deaths in 2018, this figure will probably be below 500 in 2019 once all the forensic data processes are completed.
Soylu underlined that Turkish security forces "intervened at every point where they detected drugs."
He went on to say that anti-narcotics operations in the field had achieved "significant momentum."
"Our annual number of operations, which was 81,000 in 2016, has exceeded 140,000 in the last two years. Our 2019 figure was 148,000. This acceleration should not be reduced, if possible, it should be increased," Soylu said.
He also highlighted that while the number of detainees was 7,641 in 2016, it stood at 25,619 in 2019.
Since the eruption of the bloody civil war in Syria in 2011, Turkey has taken in some 3.7 million Syrians who fled their country, making it the world’s top refugee-hosting country.
The PKK -- listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU -- has waged a terror campaign against Turkey for more than 30 years, resulting in the deaths of nearly 40,000 people. The YPG is the terrorist PKK’s Syrian branch.
* Writing by Jeyhun Aliyev from Ankara