Turkey to investigate Afrin looting claims: Presidential spokesperson
ISTANBUL – Anadolu Agency
Turkey’s presidential spokesperson said on March 19 Turkey would investigate claims of looting by Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters who seized the Syrian city of Afrin a day earlier during “Operation of Olive Branch.”
“There might be some groups here and they may be involved in that kind of action. We take that very seriously and necessary measures will be taken to address that issue,” İbrahim Kalın said, speaking during an Al Jazeera English live broadcast.
“We have not bombarded the city. Our soldiers and FSA fighters have been very careful in avoiding civilian casualties. They have been very careful in not attacking any of the houses or historical sites,” said the spokesperson.
“We want to assure everyone in Afrin as well as those who had to flee to Turkey, Aleppo, or other places that Afrin will be a safe place for them to return,” Kalın said.
Furthermore, he noted Turkey has coordinated “Operation Olive Branch” with Russia, Iran and the United States and it has been very “transparent” from the very beginning.
The next step of the “Operation Olive Branch” is to stabilize and secure regions cleared from Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militants, Kalın said.
“We have completed an important phase in the Afrin operation and the next step will be to secure the areas because there are still mines and traps and IEDs placed in different parts of the city,” he said.
“We want to make sure that all the soldiers and the civilians, FSA, our own soldiers and the local people are safe and secure,” said Kalın.
“We are in the process of stabilizing and securing the regions cleared from YPG militants,” he added.
The spokesperson drew a parallel with Turkey’s “Operation Olive Branch” in Afrin and last year’s Operation Euphrates Shield conducted between the areas of Jarabulus and al-Rai in northern Syria.
Turkey began Operation Euphrates Shield in August 2016 and ended it in late March 2017, saying they had aims to improve security, support coalition forces and eliminate the terror threat along the Turkish border.
“We have cleared more than 2,000 square kilometers area from Daesh terrorists at that time and we’ve returned those places; cities and towns back to their local owners,” said Kalın, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
“Now, there are no PYD [Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party], YPG, no Daesh and no regime forces there. It is run by local people,” he said.
“We anticipate a similar situation in Afrin,” said Kalın.
“Those who had to flee because of the regime attacks or because of the PYD/YPG will go back to their homes,” said the spokesperson.
“We are making plans to make sure that they go back safely and run their businesses,” he added.
New US secretary of state
“Ministers may change, other officials may change but the key policies are expected to remain the same,” said Kalın in regards to CIA Director Mike Pompeo being named the new U.S. Secretary of State.
“We hope the agreements we have reached with our American counterparts will be kept,” he said.
“You have to make the distinction between PYD/YPG/PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] and the Kurds. As far as people in Afrin are concerned, many had to flee because of the oppression they were facing under PYD/YPG rule,” said the spokesperson.
“When we liberated the Jarabulus Azaz area through the Euphrates Shield Operation, 140,000 people returned to their homes,” Kalın said.