- A U.S. F-16 shot down an armed Turkish drone in northeast Syria near U.S. ground troops.
- The drone was active in an area declared as a “restricted operating zone” by the U.S.
- The Pentagon confirms this action days after Turkey’s retaliatory airstrikes in northern Iraq.
The skies over northeast Syria became a tense battleground this Thursday when a U.S. fighter jet targeted and took down a Turkish drone.
The drone, equipped with air-to-surface missiles, was extensively active near the vicinity of U.S. ground forces. Pentagon sources vouched for the credibility of the incident.
In the tense moments leading up to the drone’s downing, a dozen calls were made to Turkish military officials. The essence of the messages was clear: American forces are operating in the area, and they will act in self-defense if necessary. This assertion was backed up by a U.S. official who relayed this information to ABC News.
Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Defense Department press secretary, commented on the incident, “This is certainly a regrettable incident.”
He emphasized the gravity of the situation where two NATO allies find themselves in such confrontations.
This confrontation led Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to promptly get in touch with his Turkish counterpart. Their conversation was centered around fostering better communication channels between the U.S. and Turkish militaries, according to Ryder.
The incident began when an armed Turkish drone was sighted conducting airstrikes in an area designated as a “restricted operating zone” (ROZ) by the U.S.
This immediately prompted concern as U.S. troops were a mere kilometer away from the airstrike’s vicinity. Ryder highlighted the immediate precautionary measures taken as these troops sought refuge in bunkers.
However, he was keen to point out that there was no concrete evidence suggesting the Turkish aircraft was intentionally targeting American forces.
Yet, the tension didn’t end there. Four hours post this incident, another Turkish drone ventured into the ROZ, this time even closer, a mere half-kilometer from U.S. forces.
With the drone’s continuous flight despite warnings, U.S. commanders on the ground swiftly determined the need for a defensive measure, leading to the U.S. aircraft’s action.
The backdrop to this incident is notably fraught. Just days prior, Turkey had initiated airstrikes in northern Iraq as retaliation against the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK). This militant Kurdish group recently claimed responsibility for bomb attacks in Turkey’s capital, Ankara.
In a twist, Reuters brought to light a statement from the Turkish Defense Ministry, which claimed that the downed drone did not belong to their armed forces.
Tensions between NATO members, the United States and Turkey, have been palpable, especially considering Turkey’s refusal to let Sweden enter the alliance.
The U.S. presently has approximately 900 troops stationed in eastern Syria. Their collaboration with the Syrian Kurdish forces, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has been consistent. Turkey, however, has consistently alleged that the SDF and the PKK are identical entities.
Past instances have also seen the U.S. openly criticizing Turkish airstrikes within Syria, especially those endangering Kurdish forces operating close to American troops. A particularly close call happened last November when a Turkish airstrike landed just 130 meters away from U.S. military personnel.
A spokesperson from the U.S. Central Command remarked about such close calls, “These strikes put our troops at risk. They also risk the continuation of the defeat ISIS mission.”
This was around the time when Turkey’s military was deeply involved in ground operations against SDF forces in northern Syria. Such actions forced the Kurdish group to halt its military collaboration with the U.S. military.
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