Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20 to clear the Afrin area in Syria from the PKK-affiliated People's Protection Units (YPG) terrorist organization. While some Western allies see this as a distraction from the fight against Daesh, this is in full conformity with the goal of eliminating all terrorist threats from Syria and a step in the right direction to protect Syria's territorial integrity.
Operation Olive Branch is fully legitimate within the framework of self-defense as is enshrined in Article 51 of the U.N. Charter. The Turkish cities of Hatay and Kilis have been subject to over 700 attacks from Afrin over the past few years. Furthermore, the PKK uses the area as a recruitment and training ground. The Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its YPG militia have created a de facto situation by taking control of Afrin and the surrounding areas in the name of fighting Daesh. The reality is that they have used the Daesh threat as a pretext to expand their illegitimate and forced control of Syrian territory to establish some kind of an autonomous region and eventually an independent state structure. Turkey cannot allow this to go any further.
No country questions the legitimacy of Operation Olive Branch. Some countries have voiced concerns over the size and duration of the operation and asked Turkey to avoid civilian casualties. There is no ground for any of these concerns. Turkey's record in Operation Euphrates Shield is very clear. Turkish forces cleared the areas between Jarablus and al-Bab from Daesh terrorists, avoided civilian casualties and returned the area back to its rightful owners, i.e., local Syrian communities. Turkey has no interest in occupying Syria and has never done anything to suggest such an outcome.
Those who fail to see the YPG threat in Syria are making a historic mistake. Just like al-Qaida, Daesh, Boko Haram, the PKK is a terrorist organization and its PYD and YPG Syrian affiliates are no different. The fight against the YPG in Syria and Iraq is not a distraction from the fight against Daesh. On the contrary, it serves the purpose of eliminating all forms of terrorism in the region.
Turkey has been open and clear about the PKK threat in Iraq and YPG in Syria and. It has raised the issue with the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and neighboring countries. That allies have failed to see the urgency of the issue does not prevent Turkey from taking action to protect its citizens and borders. But this is not just an issue related to Turkey. Eliminating terrorist networks in Iraq and Syria is also necessary for the people of those countries and to protect their territorial integrity and political unity.
Contrary to PKK propaganda, Operation Olive Branch is not against Kurds in Syria, but a terrorist organization. The PKK does not represent Kurds and cannot speak on their behalf. There are millions of Kurds who reject the PKK's old-fashioned Marxist-Leninist ideology and its terrorist tactics. Furthermore, the PYD and YPG have been oppressing the people of Syria, including Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens in the name of fighting Daesh. Their primary goal is not to fight Daesh but to establish a state structure by force and oppression. The world should wake up to this simple fact.
The U.S. administration has said that once the Daesh threat is over, they will no longer support the PYD and YPG. This is what U.S. President Donald Trump told President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in two phone calls on Nov. 24 and Jan. 24. Yet the U.S. military support to the YPG continues, and this raises serious questions about the ultimate goal of this policy. Empowering a terrorist force in Syria poses a threat to a NATO and jeopardizes Syria's territorial integrity and ethno-social harmony.
Ankara considers Daesh to be a terrorist organization and fought against it both as part of the international coalition and in its individual capacity, but it also expects its allies to treat the PKK and its branches in the same way. It is only with this understanding that the current tensions between NATO allies Turkey and the U.S. will be overcome.
Just as Turkey supports its allies in their fight against terrorism, they should support Turkey in its fight against terrorism, whether it is Daesh, the PKK or the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ). This is what a true alliance and friendship requires.