An American F-16 fighter aircraft shot down a Turkish unmanned aerial vehicle that had been observed conducting airstrikes in a U.S.-restricted operating zone about a kilometer from U.S. forces in Syria.
This is the first time U.S. forces have brought down an aircraft of NATO ally Turkey. The U.S. military also added that officials repeatedly warned Ankara about flying drones near U.S. troops.
At around 7:30 a.m. local time, U.S. forces observed UAVs conducting airstrikes in the vicinity of Hasakah, Syria, Ryder said. Some of the strikes were inside a declared U.S.-restricted operating zone.
“At approximately 11:30 local time, a Turkish UAV reentered the ROZ on a heading toward where U.S. forces were located,” Ryder said. “U.S. commanders assessed that the UAV, which was now less than a half a kilometer from U.S. forces, to be a potential threat, and U.S. F-16 fighters subsequently shot down the UAV in self-defense at approximately 11:40 local time.”
No U.S. forces were injured, Ryder said, also adding there is no indication that Turkey had intentionally been targeting U.S. forces.
“It’s a regrettable incident, but U.S. commanders on the ground did assess that there was a potential threat and so they took prudent action in this scenario,” Ryder said. “But again, the secretary has talked to his counterpart. They had the opportunity to have a fruitful conversation and … commit to one another that the U.S. and Turkey will continue to closely communicate and coordinate. And as I mentioned, Turkey does remain a very important and valuable NATO ally and partner to the United States.”
Recently Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency carried out strikes in Syria against Kurdish militant targets after a bomb attack in Ankara last weekend.
Ankara’s aggressive stance towards the Kurdish forces has been fueled by a suicide bombing in the Turkish capital, which the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) claimed responsibility for.
Turkey considers the PKK a terrorist organization and has been conducting operations against the group both domestically and internationally.
The American support for the Kurdish forces in Syria, viewed by Turkey as an extension of the PKK, has been a major point of contention between the two nations.
While the US has been backing the Kurdish forces as a key ally in the fight against ISIS, this support has strained its relationship with Turkey, a critical NATO ally. This incident of an American F-16 shooting down a Turkish drone accentuates this delicate balancing act and underscores the geopolitical complexities in the region.
This incident could potentially escalate tensions and have far-reaching implications. The US-Turkey relationship is crucial for both regional stability and broader NATO cohesion. With both nations agreeing on the need to continue the fight against terrorist threats worldwide, as expressed in a recent phone conversation between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, the challenge lies in reconciling their differences over the Kurdish issue.