UPDATES WITH DEFENSE MINISTRY STATEMENT, DEVELOPMENTS IN DIYARBAKIR, SANLIURFA
By Sena Guler and Busra Nur Bilgic Cakmak
ANKARA (AA) - Turkish troops along with the Syrian National Army have begun Operation Peace Spring against the PKK/YPG and Daesh terrorists in northern Syria, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Wednesday.
"The Turkish Armed Forces, together with the Syrian National Army, just launched #OperationPeaceSpring against PKK/YPG and Daesh terrorists in northern Syria," Erdogan said on Twitter.
"Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area," he added.
Erdogan said the operation will neutralize terror threats against Turkey and lead to the establishment of a safe zone that will facilitate return of Syrian refugees to their homes.
"We will preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and liberate local communities from terrorists," Erdogan said.
Turkey’s National Defense Ministry also announced the start of the operation, saying: "Operation Peace Spring has started at 4.p.m. local time today (1300GMT) for the purposes of ensuring the security of our borders, preventing the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, neutralizing terrorists and terrorist organizations, including Daesh and PKK/KCK/PYD-YPG, that threaten our national security, and creating the necessary conditions for the return of displaced Syrians to their homes and lands."
Two mortar shells were fired from YPG/PKK-occupied Rasulayn in Syria to Ceylanpinar district in Turkey’s border province of Sanliurfa.
No casualties were reported.
Following these announcements, air traffic increased at the eighth Main Jet military base in Turkey's southeastern Diyarbakir province.
Turkish fighter jets landed at the base, while others wait on the runway ready to take off.
Military cargo planes also intermittently land at the base.
The sound of howitzers also echoed in Ceylanpinar, as smoke rises from some districts of Rasulayn, and fighter jets zip along the Syrian border.
Turkish howitzers are targeting terrorists in Tal Abyad as part of the operation.
- Operation Peace Spring
Turkey has launched Operation Peace Spring east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria to secure its borders by eliminating terrorist elements to ensure the safe return of Syrian refugees and Syria’s territorial integrity.
Turkey has said the terrorist group PKK and its extension the YPG/PYD constitute the biggest threat to Syria’s future, jeopardizing the country’s territorial integrity and unitary structure.
Ankara has also stressed that supporting terrorists under the pretext of fighting Daesh is unacceptable.
Turkey has a 911-kilometer (566-mile) border with Syria and it has long decried the threat from terrorists east of the Euphrates and the formation of a “terrorist corridor” there.
Turkey plans to resettle 2 million Syrians in a 30-km-wide (19-mi) safe zone to be set up in Syria, stretching from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border, including Manbij. However, the presence of terror groups such as the PKK, PYD, and YPG risk its formation.
Turkey has rid an area of 4,000 square km (1,544 square miles) in Syria of terrorist groups in two separate cross-border operations. Since 2016, Turkey has conducted two major military operations in northwestern Syria -- Operation Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch -- to purge the region of the terrorist groups Daesh and the YPG, which is the Syrian branch of the terrorist group PKK.
The two operations were in line with the country’s right to self-defense borne out of international law, UN Security Council resolutions, especially no. 1624 (2005), 2170 (2014) and 2178 (2014), and under the right to self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter, while being respectful of Syria’s territorial integrity.
During Operation Euphrates Shield, Turkish forces neutralized 3,060 Daesh terrorists. Turkey has suffered greatly from Daesh attacks inside the country. More than 300 people have been killed in attacks claimed by Daesh in Turkey, where the terrorist group has targeted civilians in suicide bombings and armed attacks in recent years.
In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK -- listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU -- has been responsible for the deaths of some 40,000 people, including women, children, and infants.
*Hasan Namli in Diyarbakir and Kerem Kocalar in Sanliurfa contributed to this report