In a recent escalation of tensions between the United States and Turkey, American warplanes have successfully shot down a Turkish drone over Syrian airspace. The incident occurred near Hasakah and has raised concerns regarding the relationship between these NATO allies.
The development unfolded on Thursday, following Turkey’s military actions targeting Kurdish forces in Syria. These operations were in response to a suicide bombing in Ankara, which was claimed by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an organization deemed as outlawed.
Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder informed journalists that US troops had detected drones conducting raids on Thursday morning, some of them operating within a “restricted operating zone” (ROZ) close to Hasakah, situated less than a mile from US forces. A Turkish drone later returned to this ROZ and approached American forces, despite repeated calls to Ankara’s military. This prompted US officials to view the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) as a potential threat when it was within half a kilometer of US forces, leading US F-16 fighters to take action and shoot down the UAV in self-defense.
Following the incident, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Turkish counterpart Yasar Guler, emphasizing the need for de-escalation in northern Syria and the importance of adhering to established military communication protocols.
Turkey’s defense ministry confirmed the call and mentioned discussions on “the latest developments in Syria.”
It is noteworthy that the UAV involved did not belong to the Turkish military, according to Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu. She emphasized that various Turkish agencies, including intelligence and the interior ministry’s gendarmerie, have been involved in counterterrorism operations in northern Iraq and Syria.
In a subsequent development, Turkish military airstrikes on Thursday night reportedly targeted and destroyed 30 Kurdish fighter targets in northern Syria, including an oil well, a storage facility, and shelters. The Turkish defense ministry stated that these attacks resulted in the “neutralization” of many fighters. Turkey has asserted that these operations are carried out in self-defense, warning other countries to steer clear of areas controlled by groups they continue to target.
The United States maintains approximately 900 troops in Syria as part of international efforts to combat the ISIS armed group. These forces cooperate with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who played a crucial role in dislodging ISIS fighters from their last stronghold in 2019. However, Turkey views the Kurdish People’s Protection Units within the SDF as an offshoot of the PKK, considered a “terrorist” group by Turkey and its Western allies.
Turkish attacks on military and infrastructure targets in Kurdish-held areas of Syria resulted in casualties, with at least nine people reported killed on Thursday, according to Kurdish security forces.
The situation in Syria remains complex, with various forces, including those from President Bashar al-Assad’s government, Russia, the US, Turkey, Iran-linked armed groups, and Kurdish fighters, among others, operating both on the ground and in the air, creating a volatile mix of interests and dynamics.