By Hajer M'tiri
PARIS (AA) - The only target of Turkey's Operation Olive Branch in Syria’s northwestern Afrin region is terrorist groups and not Kurds, said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday.
In an interview with French broadcaster FRANCE 24, Cavusoglu said: "It was vitally important" for Turkey to launch this operation to eradicate PYD/PKK and Daesh terrorists, targeting Turkish territories.
"These terrorist organizations are at the other side of our border, or at our border, so it is a threat for us. And no country can tolerate any terrorist elements at its borders.
"The terrorist organizations have been sending harassing fire from Afrin region to Turkey. More than 700 harassing fires have been launched."
The Turkish foreign minister went on correcting the wrong portrayal of the operation as a fight against Kurds.
"We also have Kurdish citizens. We are not targeting the Kurds in Syria or Iraq or in any other countries, but [we are only targeting] terrorist organizations," Cavusoglu said.
Due to the civil war in Syria, many Syrian Kurd families fled the war and took refuge in Turkey, he noted.
Nearly 350,000 Kurds from Afrin, Syria, left their country, and most of them fled to Turkey after oppression from the terrorist groups, PKK/PYD/YPG and Daesh.
"They are unable to go back to the areas which are under control of YPG forces, because YPG does not want them. So this is the terrorist organization that we are targeting.
- Terrorists groups torture civilians
"Turkmens, Kurds and Arabs are very happy that Turkish military forces together with Free Syrian Army are already in [Afrin] because this terrorist organization has been also torturing the civilians in the region."
"That's why this operation is not only important for us but also important for Afrin region to make it free from terrorists."
Cavusoglu said there were also some Daesh elements there who were trying to cross borders to attack Turkey or to go back to their countries of origin like France.
The Turkish FM said there was "good" but "limited" cooperation between Daesh and YPG in Afrin. "So we are being targeting YPG, PKK and Daesh in Afrin."
When asked that how far the Operation Olive Branch can go, Cavusoglu said the operation is against terrorists in Afrin for now.
"This operation is targeting [terrorists in] Afrin region. But the threat is also coming from Manbij,"he said.
The foreign minister added that Turkish forces, which are placed there as part of the Euphrates Shield Operation, were targeted by harassing fire from the terrorist group.
"From eastern part of Euphrates River, the terrorists have been crossing the border and even smuggling weapons, given by the U.S and others. And PKK has been using those weapons to attack our military and civilians."
"Therefore, as Turkey, we have to eliminate the threat whatever it is," Cavusoglu added.
- Operation in Manbij likely
"For now, Afrin is the target. But in the future, we might also start an operation in Manbij and also in the eastern part of the Euphrates."
Cavusoglu said Turkey will fight all terrorist groups posing a threat on the country no matter who is behind it.
"We don't care who is behind those terrorist organizations or supporting them. They are targeting me, they are targeting my borders. So as a government, as a state, our obligation is to eliminate any threat targeting Turkey."
When asked if there were any guaranties from the U.S. that the YPG group would be out of the picture, Cavusoglu responded that the U.S. has promised repeatedly that the YPG would immediately leave after the operation in Manbij but they are still there like in Iraq’s Raqqah.
“The U.S. made a lot of promises and they haven’t delivered it,” the foreign minister said.
He said he discussed the issue and Ankara’s concerns with the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Paris on Tuesday.
Cavusoglu slammed YPG propaganda, claiming that citizens were killed in Afrin.
“No civilians were killed. YPG is showing their terrorists, who were killed, as civilians,” he said.
- Allegations rejected
The foreign minister rejected the allegations that Turkey struck a deal with Russia and Bashar al-Assad regime before launching operation in Afrin.
“No we didn’t make any deal. We didn’t ask any permission from Syrian regime.”
Cavusoglu said Turkey only informed international and regional parties about the operation.
Turkey on Saturday launched Operation Olive Branch to remove PYD/PKK and Daesh terrorists from Afrin.
According to Turkish General Staff, the operation aims to establish security and stability along Turkish borders and the region as well as to protect the Syrian people from the oppression and cruelty of terrorists.
The operation is being carried out under the framework of Turkey’s rights based on international law, UN Security Council’s decisions, self-defense rights under the UN charter and respect for Syria's territorial integrity, it said.
The military has also said that only terrorist targets are being destroyed and "utmost importance" is being given to not harm any civilians.
Afrin has been a major hideout for the PYD/PKK since July 2012 when the Assad regime in Syria left the city to the terror group without putting up a fight.