The Pentagon said Thursday that the US military shot down an armed Turkish drone that came within 500 meters of US troops in northeast Syriain an unusual use of force by one NATO member against another.
Air Force Gen. Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, called it a “regrettable incident” and said U.S. troops were forced into bunkers for safety while Turkey bombed nearby targets.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke with his Turkish counterpart and stressed the importance of close coordination between their two countries to avoid any risk to US forces or to the global coalition’s mission to defeat the militants of the Islamic State in the region, Ryder said.
“The decision was made with due diligence and the inherent right of self-defense to take appropriate measures to protect U.S. forces,” Ryder said, adding that ““We have no indication that Türkiye was intentionally targeting US forces.”.
US officials told The Associated Press that the shootdown was ordered after more than a dozen calls to Turkish military officials indicating that U.S. forces were in the area and that the U.S. military would take action to protect them if the drone did not leave.
Ryder said U.S. forces observed Turkish drones conducting airstrikes around Hasakah around 7:30 a.m. local time, and that some strikes were carried out within the call “restricted area of operations” American just a kilometer from American troops. He said that shortly afterward a Turkish drone re-entered the restricted area “in the direction of where the US forces were located.”
Commanders determined it was a threat and U.S. F-16 fighter jets shot it down around 11:40 a.m., Ryder said, adding that no US forces were injured.
Normally, the armies of the United States and Turkey, which are NATO allies, work in close coordination in conducting air maneuvers. But U.S. troops are also working closely with Kurdish-led forces to counter the Islamic State group in the region.
The United States has about 900 soldiers in Syria carrying out missions to counter the militants of the Islamic State group.
The country’s state-run Anadolu agency reported that the Turkish intelligence service, MIT, carried out an operation against the Kurdistan Workers Partyeither P.K.K., and its affiliated Kurdish militia group in Syria, known as the People’s Defense Units or YPG. The report says the Turks attacked suspected weapons and ammunition depots and buildings believed to have been used by the groups’ “sabotage” teams. He did not provide further details about the operation.
On Wednesday, Turkey carried out airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against Kurdish militant targets following a suicide attack outside Turkey’s Interior Ministry building earlier this week.
At a news conference after the attack, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said Turkish intelligence officials established that the two attackers arrived from Syria, where they had been trained. He said that Türkiye would now attack facilities in Syria and Iraq belonging to the PKK or the YPG.
Thursday’s incident risks aggravating long-standing tensions between Turkey and the United States, despite the fact that Turkey is a strategically important ally and member of NATO. U.S. officials and lawmakers have criticized Turkey’s human rights record and its delays in accepting Sweden’s membership in NATO. Turkey has been frustrated by US delays in approving 40 new F-16 fighter jets, as well as kits to upgrade its existing fleet.
Ryder told reporters that the United States “strongly supports our NATO ally, Turkey, and the Turkish people in their fight against the PKK.”
The United States has designated the PKK as a “foreign terrorist organization”, but has declined to make a similar determination regarding the YPG, which has been a key U.S. partner in the fight against the Islamic State group in northern Syria. The United States does not believe the YPG poses a threat to Türkiye.
On Wednesday, the State Department said there was no change in how the United States views the YPG.
In 2016, the Turkish president, Tayyip Erdogan, accused the United States of supporting a failed coup attempt against his government. The United States has flatly rejected the accusations, but has also refused to extradite the leader of the group that Erdogan claims he was behind the attempt, cleric Fetullah Gulen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania.
(With information from AP)