Türkiye ‘neutralized’ 39,211 terrorists in the past eight years, the country’s defense minister announced on Thursday as he vowed more efforts, in the country and abroad, to fight terrorism.
Since Türkiye launched a major airstrike against the PKK terrorist group in 2015, more than 39,000 terrorists were “neutralized,” National Defense Minister Yaşar Güler announced on Thursday. Speaking at a budget committee of Parliament in the capital, Ankara, Güler said this year alone, security forces eliminated 1,868 terrorists.
The figures include those captured alive or surrendered, as Turkish authorities use the term “neutralized” to refer both to terrorists killed in operations and those injured and arrested. Still, it is a huge number for the country that boasts of reducing the clout of the terrorist group that has killed thousands since the 1980s, from soldiers and police officers to infants.
In the early 2000s, Türkiye initiated a “democratic opening” or “reconciliation process” to resolve the “Kurdish question,” which the terrorist group exploited for its bloody campaign. Yet, the efforts failed as the PKK claimed Türkiye undermined the process and escalated its attacks. On July 24, 2015, the Turkish army launched its first airstrike in three years against the PKK targets in northern Iraq, where the group’s leadership is holed up. More strikes and operations followed.
Güler told the committee that terrorism had been a problem, exhausting Türkiye’s energy and resources. Still, Türkiye was now going through “the most successful period” in counterterrorism, thanks to its strategy of “eradicating terrorism at its source, with operations in the country and beyond our borders.”
The minister pointed out a series of operations by the Turkish army in Syria and Iraq, from Euphrates Shield, Olive Branch and Peace Spring to Claw-Lock, where the army put boots on the ground and employed locally made drones to strike terrorists. “The terrorist group is at the point of extinction inside the country and operations disintegrated ‘terror corridor’ beyond the borders. I am proud to say that our country, our nation accomplished epic success in counterterrorism,” he said.
Güler highlighted that Türkiye’s counterterrorism operations abroad, in Syria and Iraq, were based on the country’s right to self-defense guaranteed by international law and “concerning sovereignty rights and territorial integrity of our neighbors.” Iraq occasionally protests Turkish operations in its territory while Türkiye repeatedly calls it to remove terrorists from its lands and recognize the PKK as a terrorist group. Türkiye’s normalization process with the Assad regime of Syria also appears to hinge on counterterrorism operations. Ankara vowed not to backtrack from counterterrorism operations in Syria, especially in areas immediately across the Turkish border, while the Assad regime is critical of operations.
Güler said the planning of operations was meticulous so as not to harm innocent civilians, friendly elements, environment, as well as cultural and historical sites. “All elements of the PKK and Daesh in Syria and Iraq have been our legitimate targets and will continue being so,” he added. The minister said they responded to any harassment fire and attempted attacks targeting soldiers proportionately in Syria and Iraq and took measures for their safety.
“We are determined to continue taking measures to safeguard our country’s security and legitimate interests under the leadership of our president. At the same time, we are working to help Syria regain its stability. For the return of Syrian refugees (in Türkiye) to a safe environment, safely, through humanitarian assistance action and normalization efforts,” he said. Türkiye is home to a large Syrian refugee population who fled civil war.
Fight against FETÖ
The minister also spoke about efforts against the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ). Through its infiltrators in the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), FETÖ carried out a July 15, 2016 coup attempt that killed 251 people. Güler’s predecessor, Hulusi Akar, who was chief of general staff at the time, was among the victims of the putschists who held him hostage for hours before the failure of the coup bid.
Güler said since the 2016 coup attempt, a total of 23,971 personnel of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) were expelled from the army for their links to FETÖ. “We will not give any concessions and will be resolute to ensure that we have not even one personnel affiliated with the terrorist group,” he said.
According to an investigation by Istanbul’s Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, which was made public in December 2020, the terrorist group began infiltrating the TSK more than four decades ago. Based on a report prepared by Gendarmerie General Command, the report says 22 of 239 students who graduated from military schools between the 1970s and 1990s were charged with involvement in the 2016 coup attempt, while 58 others were investigated for being a member of FETÖ following the failed putsch bid. While the students discharged from military schools could not continue carrying out their missions in the army, they still aided FETÖ’s attempts by offering insight into the military’s workings, playing an “active role” in establishing the hidden network inside the TSK, the report says.
FETÖ – led by Fetullah Gülen, who currently lives in the United States and is implicated in a long list of trials against the terrorist group – orchestrated the coup attempt with the aid of its military infiltrators and civilian members of the group who were in charge of those infiltrators. To this day, security forces continue their operations against the group.
Soce: Daily Sabah