Turkish forces have “neutralized” a total of 316 terrorists since the beginning of the year in 18 domestic and cross-border operations, Turkiye’s Ministry of National Defense said on Thursday.

Turkiye conducted five large and 13 medium-scale anti-terrorism operations since Jan. 1, ministry spokeswoman Maj. Pinar Kara told reporters in the capital Ankara.

Kara added at the press conference that the country’s security forces had neutralized 33,584 terrorists in Turkiye, Iraq, and northern Syria since July 24, 2015.

In 2022, a total of 94 people were caught and 2,831 others were prevented from illegally crossing Turkiye’s border from Iran, she said, adding that 296 people were caught trying to illegally cross Turkiye’s borders in January alone.

These 296 included 28 terrorists, of whom 12 were members of the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), the group behind the 2016 defeated coup in Turkey, Kara said.

Turkish security forces also seized 2,500 packs of cigarettes, 7 kilograms (15.4 pounds) of drugs, and 76 various firearms during the same period, Kara added.

On planned terror attacks that Turkish forces successfully thwarted last month, Kara said 272 terrorists, including members of the Daesh/ISIS terror group and PKK/YPG, had been neutralized.

Turkish authorities use the term “neutralize” to imply the terrorists in question surrendered or were killed or captured.

In its more than 35-year terror campaign against Turkiye, the PKK — listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US, and the EU — has been responsible for the deaths of at least 40,000 people, including women, children, and infants.

In its fight against Daesh/ISIS, Turkiye became one of the first countries to declare it a terrorist group in 2013.

Azerbaijan and Libya

On developments in Azerbaijan, Kara said that in January, a total of 5,236 square meters (56,360 sq feet) of land in the region had been cleared of mines to support the Azerbaijani army in areas liberated from Armenian occupation, adding that training in mine-clearing was ongoing.

During the 44-day conflict for the long-occupied region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan liberated several cities and over 300 settlements and villages that were occupied by Armenia for almost 30 years.

Prior to that, about 20% of Azerbaijan’s territory was under illegal occupation.

The fighting ended with a Russian-brokered agreement on Nov. 10, 2020 which was seen as a victory for Azerbaijan and a defeat for Armenia.

On Libya, Kara said Turkiye had so far trained a total of 8,500 Libyan forces and that training was ongoing for 1,500 others. She added that so far, 5,300 mines had been destroyed in Libya, as well.

On Nov. 27, 2019, Ankara and Tripoli signed two separate memoranda of understanding; one on military cooperation and the other on maritime boundaries of countries in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Greece, irregular migrants

Criticizing Greece over its “inhumane practices” against irregular migrants, Kara said Athens was ruthlessly trying to push back migrants, including women and children, in the Aegean Sea.

Kara’s remarks came after a total of 19 migrants were found frozen to death near the two countries’ mutual border earlier this month, stripped of their belongings, including clothes and shoes, before being pushed back to Turkiye by Greek border officials.

Greece, calling the incident a “tragedy,” denied involvement, with Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachi saying on Twitter that any suggestion that Greek forces had pushed the victims back would be “patently false.”

Turkish officials have severely criticized Athens over its treatment of migrants, accusing it of disregarding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

F35 fighter jets

About ongoing talks with the US on F-35 fighter jets, sources at the National Defense Ministry said that following an initial meeting in Ankara on Oct. 27, the Turkish side is expecting an invitation from the US for a follow-up meeting this month.

The sources said that efforts on the supply and modernization of the F-16 fighters continued and that the second High-Level Defense Group Meeting between Turkish and the US defense authorities was in the planning stage.

Turkiye and the US agreed to continue talks to resolve their dispute on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, the Turkish Defense Ministry had said last October.

According to a statement, Turkish and US officials held a meeting in Ankara, in which they also discussed financial issues.

In 2019, Washington announced that it was taking Turkiye out of the F-35 program over Ankara’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defense system.

Turkey, however, stressed that the S-400s would not be integrated into NATO systems and pose no threat to the alliance or its armaments.

Ankara also repeatedly proposed setting up a commission to clarify the issue.

NATO meeting in Brussels

The sources also said that Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, who had tested positive for COVID-19 last Sunday, was in “very good” condition.

They added that Akar was expected to attend a NATO meeting slated for Feb. 16-17 in Brussels.

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