Kurdish demonstrators burn an image of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a protest Thursday against the military offensive targeting Kurds in Afrin, Syria. Photo by Katia Christodoulou/EPA
March 1 (UPI) -- More than 2,200 terrorists have been "neutralized" in the Afrin region of Syria as part of Turkey's ongoing military operations there, authorities said Thursday.
The Turkish Armed Forced used the term "neutralized" to describe capturing terrorists dead or alive, or those who have surrendered to Ankara forces. Thursday, they pegged the total figure at 2,222.
The deaths are part of Turkey's Operation Olive Branch, a campaign launched in January to clear Islamic State territories from northwestern Syria. As part of the fight, Turkish forces have targeted Kurdish and Syrian rebel factions.
Officials said since the launch of the operation, Turkish forces and the rebel Free Syrian Army have liberated 116 locations -- including one Afrin town, 88 villages, six smaller villages, 20 mountains and hills and one base.
Turkish authorities said the operation aims to establish security and stability along the nation's borders. The Afrin region is adjacent to Turkey's Hatay and Kilis provinces and has served as a major hideout for terrorists since 2012.
In January, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said there are between 8,000 and 10,000 terrorists in Afrin, including members of the People's Protection Units, known as YPG, and the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.
"The PKK, the YPG, the PYD are all the same. Changing their names does not change fact they are terror organizations," President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at the start of the operation.
Operation Olive Branch is being carried out based on international law, United Nations Security Council resolutions, its self-defense rights and respect for Syria's territorial integrity, Turkish General Staff said.
Turkish forces said terrorists are their only targets and they are taking the "utmost care" to avoid harming civilians.