Officials say the US shot down an armed Turkish drone operating near its troops in Syria, the first time Washington has brought down an aircraft of NATO ally.
The alleged downing on Thursday came as a series of Turkish strikes on US-allied Kurdish militant targets killed at least nine people in northeastern Syria.
A Turkish defense ministry official said the drone shot down by the US did not belong to the Turkish armed forces but did not say whose property it was.
Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency carried out strikes in Syria against the Syrian Kurdish YPG group after a bomb attack in Ankara last weekend, a Turkish security source said on Thursday.
Two unnamed US officials, quoted by Reuters news agency, said an F-16 shot down the Turkish drone after the United States called Turkish military officials multiple times to warn them they were operating close to US ground forces. The officials said the Turkish drone was believed to be armed.
The shootdown is likely to add to the tensions between Turkey and US, NATO allies, over the American military strategy in Syria, the US ejection of Turkey from the advanced F-35 jet fighter program, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ties with Moscow.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is expected to speak to Turkish officials, a US official said.
Erdogan dropped his opposition in July to Sweden’s bid to join NATO after talking with President Biden. But Erdogan’s decision still must be approved by Turkey’s parliament and the Turkish president said last month, according to Turkish media, that final approval would be contingent on the US sale of F-16 jet fighters.
US support for Kurdish militants in northern Syria has long caused tension with Turkey, which views them as a wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – the group which claimed Sunday’s attack in Ankara near government buildings.
Ankara said on Wednesday the two attackers had come from Syria. The bombing killed both attackers and wounded two police officers.
A Turkish defense ministry official said on Thursday a ground operation into Syria was one option Turkey could consider. Turkey has mounted several previous incursions into northern Syria.
Security forces in northeastern Syria said Turkey had launched a series of attacks on Thursday with more than 15 drones entering the region’s airspace and hitting targets including infrastructure and gas and oil stations.
In a statement, the security forces said Turkish attacks killed six members of the internal security forces in northeastern Syria, and two civilians in two separate strikes.
Turkey has redoubled its operations targeting the PKK, by carrying out airstrikes in northern Iraq.
Turkish officials said any infrastructure and energy facilities in Iraq and Syria controlled by the PKK, as well as the YPG, were legitimate military targets.
Turkey, Iraq discuss joint steps
Turkey’s Defense Minister Yasar Guler and his Iraqi counterpart Thabet al-Abbasi discussed possible joint steps on counterterrorism and border security during talks in Ankara on Thursday.
Iraq has denounced the Turkish airstrikes and Iraqi President Abdul-Latif Rashid said he hoped to come to an agreement with Ankara to solve this problem.
“These violations are rejected by the Iraqi people, the (Kurdistan) region and all of Iraq’s inhabitants,” Rashid recently said in an interview. Such strikes sometimes killed civilians, including people visiting the region who “become victims of Turkish bombing,” he added.
Rashid said Baghdad hoped to come to an agreement with Ankara to resolve the issue in a manner similar to a security agreement Baghdad has inked with Tehran to deal with anti-Iran separatist groups in the Kurdistan region.
The PKK has carried out numerous operations against the Turkish government, calling for a Kurdish state within Turkey where it is blamed for the deaths of over 40,000 people.
The group back-pedaled on its secessionist demands in the 1990s, calling instead on Ankara to give the people in Kurdish-dominated regions of Turkey more autonomy.
There are roughly 900 US troops based in Syria, who have been working with Kurdish militants. The YPG is the spearhead of the main ally of US troops in Syria. Support for the YPG by the United States and other allies, including France, has strained ties with Ankara.
Turkey has warned forces of third countries to stay away from facilities controlled by the PKK and YPG.