Turkey supports the territorial integrity and political unity of Syria while conducting military operations against the terrorist PKK/YPG group, the defense minister said on Sunday.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Hulusi Akar underlined that while the U.S. is planning to withdraw from northern Syria, Turkey will continue to take measures to prevent terrorist groups from exploiting the power vacuum. 

“While fighting terrorism, Turkey always respects territorial integrity and political unity of Syria,” he said, and stressed Ankara has no other goal than to ensure safety and security of its borders and people. 

Akar said Turkey has recently experienced many incidents of violations and harassing fire by the the terrorist PKK/YPG group in the border region. 

“We already have a memorandum of understanding with Syria to fight terrorists,” he said, referring to the 1998 Adana agreement between Turkey and Syria which included provisions on the fight against terrorism. 

“Because of the current situation in Syria, Damascus cannot fight against terrorists. So this is the reason why we are there, why we are fighting,” he said.

The Turkish defense minister renewed Ankara’s demand for a 440-kilometres long (273-mile) safe zone east of Euphrates, which he said should be cleared of the terrorist YPG group and patrolled by the Turkish forces. 

Akar described Turkey’s previous military operations against Daesh and PKK/YPG terror groups in Al-Bab, Afrin, and Azaz as a big success, and said these operations enabled more than 300,000 Syrian refugees to return home. 

He also underlined the importance of a memorandum signed last year between Turkey and Russia to establish a demilitarized zone in Idlib. 

“We are all aware that it is not an easy job, but in coordination with the Russians we are trying to do our best,” he said. 

“It is also very important that we avoid another humanitarian disaster, influx of refugees to Turkey,” he added. 

Akar said the joint works of Turkey and Russia had also managed to stop ceasefire violations in the area.