Spotlight: Turkey's military operation in Syria enjoys widespread public support

by Burak Akinci

ANKARA, Feb. 8 (Xinhua) -- Turkey's offensive in northern Syriaagainst Kurdish fighters is enjoying widespread public support in a country with a media frenzy backing the cross-border operation.

At a cafe in downtown Ankara, Eyup Gumus, chatting with friends while sipping at his Turkish coffee, is one of those defending the "Operation Olive Branch" launched last month to eliminate Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia in northern Syria, which is considered a terrorist group by Turkey.

"What can you do when terrorists throw rockets at your cities, killing innocent people?" the 57-year-old pensioner told Xinhua.

"You blow them to hell," he said firmly.

The Turkish authorities said 94 rockets have been launched from the YPG positions since the beginning of the Turkish incursion, killing seven civilians including a teenager, and injuring 113 others.

"This operation should have been launched sooner, but western countries, especially the United States, prevented Turkey from protecting its own security," said Gumus, who accuses Washington of supporting the YPG in the fight against the Islamic State (IS), as the militia itself poses a "terrorist threat."

The anti-Kurdish operation in Syria has become a rare opportunity to rally around Turkey's fractured political circles as the majority of the political parties are supporting it, including the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP).

"I am not pro-Erdogan, but I still believe this offensive is justified. It is a matter of national security and our soldiers are doing a very difficult job," said Sait, a 33-year-old barber who is also a client of the cafe.

He said one of his relatives was en route to Afrin, where the operation is going on, to participate in the fighting as a member of a commandos unit.

In Turkey, a recent public opinion poll shows that 85 percent of the respondents backing the offensive, and 90 percent blaming the U.S. for supporting the YPG and its Turkish affiliate the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been engaged in an insurgency against the Turkish government since 1984.

In another survey conducted by Optimar, 72 percent of the respondents say they are clearly "anti-U.S.," explaining their resentment by the "U.S. support for the YPG and the PKK."

With the growing distrust between the two longstanding partners, Turkish President Erdogan said in an address to the parliament on Tuesday that the U.S. has "finally awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve," warning Washington to stop arming "YPG terrorists."

"Turkey will not step back from an operation against Manbij," a Kurdish-controlled Syrian town located 100 km east of Afrin, even at the risk of a confrontation with U.S. special forces deployed there, he said.

Erdogan described the U.S. military presence in Syria as opportunistic, saying Washington has "calculations against Turkey, Iranand maybe Russia" as the IS has been largely defeated.

According to the Turkish military, nearly 1,000 Kurdish fighters have been "neutralized" in the military operation in Afrin, while the Turkish army's death toll stands at 13.

"Our people are behind the 'Operation Olive Branch.' The love of our people for its Mehmetcik is very well-known. There is always unity and solidarity in Turkey when our national security is at stake," an official of Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party told Xinhua.

Mehmetcik is a general term used affectionately to refer to Turkish soldiers.

There has been a surge of nationalist fervor in Turkey promoted by a media frenzy since the beginning of the Turkish operation in Syria.

On Tuesday, Devlet Bahceli, the nationalist leader in his 70s, said he is "ready to sacrifice his life for his nation, if there is need, to go and combat in Afrin" before receiving a standing ovation from his Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) members.

Pro-government news outlets are all scrambling to relay special programs, where military commentators feeding viewers with information on the progress of Turkish troops toward Afrin.

There is also a war raging on the social media as some European news outlets are reporting civilian casualties during the Turkish operation, which Turkey has categorically denied as "slander."

"Our target is neither the U.S. or our Kurdish brothers in Afrin, our target is the YPG terrorists who are using civilian people as human shields there," said Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu during a television interview.

[ Editor: meng ]


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