Turkey’s Syria offensive death toll lower than coalition’s Raqqa operation - analyst

The death toll of Turkey’s paused military offensive in northern Syria is significantly lower than the U.S.-led coalition’s four-month operation in Raqqa against the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2017, said Özgür Ünlühisarcıklı, the director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States' office in Ankara. 

Some 79 civilians were killed in Turkey’s nine day offensive in Syria which was launched on Oct. 9 and paused on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday. The United Nations said on Monday that at least 160,000 people fled the fighting. 

"I will comment on four myths in Turkey's Peace Spring Operation,” Ünlühisarcıklı said on Friday at the beginning of a Twitter thread. 

The analysts said Turkey was attacking in northeast Syria the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara sees as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

“YPG is not interchangeable with Kurds as ISIL (ISIS) is not interchangeable with Muslims”, the analyst said. 

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and its affiliate the YPG formed the backbone of the U.S.-led coalition forces fighting against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria. 

Ünlühisarcıklı also said that the allegations that Turkey targeted Kurdish cities were not true as the northwestern Syrian towns of Tel Abyad and Ras al Ayn, two focal points of Turkish offensive, were mainly-Arab cities. 

“MYTH #3: TURKEY IS MASSACRING KURDS. The number of civilian collateral damage in Peace Springs is remarkably low compared to some other urban theatres in Syria. 1200 civilians were killed in Raqqa while the number is well below 100 in Peace Springs,” he said. 

According to rights group Amnesty International’s two-year investigation into US-led coalition’s campaign against ISIS-held Raqqa, air and artillery strikes killed more than 1,600 civilians until the U.S.-backed SDF recaptured the city in October 2017. 

Ünlühisarcıklı said that Turkey was not releasing ISIS prisoners staying in camps in Kurdish-controlled territories and the only ISIS prison in Turkey’s military operation area was in Ayn Issa. The prison was already empty when Turkish troops marched in, he said. 

The analyst said Turkey’s offensive was not beyond criticism. He said Turkey had acted without foresight since the start of civil war in Syria and had made a mistake by cooperating with the Free Syrian Army (FSA). 

“In conclusion, while there are ways to criticise Turkey's operation based on facts, an overwhelming part of the criticism I read is based on myths,” he said.