LONDON / WASHINGTON — A US F-16 fighter jet has downed an unmanned Turkish drone close to a coalition facility in northeastern Syria, where 900 US special operation forces are deployed, a move that is likely to escalate tensions between the two NATO allies, the Pentagon has confirmed.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke with his Turkish counterpart Yasar Guler to discuss the matter on Thursday, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters. Ryder called the shootdown of the Turkish drone near the Syrian town of al-Hasakah "a regrettable incident." He added that no US forces were injured and that there were "no indications that Turkey was intentionally targeting US forces," but that Turkish drones had been "conducting airstrikes inside a declared US-restricted operating zone" prior to the shoot-down.
A US F-16 downed the armed drone after multiple warnings to the Turkish military to move it away from the area, Al-Monitor's sources said. The initial assessment was that it was not a military drone, but that it belonged to Turkey's national spy agency, MIT, which has been carrying out targeted assassinations of Kurdish militants in the area.
Ryder said the F-16 shot down the drone around 11:40 local time after US forces first detected multiple Turkish UAVs flying in the vicinity of a US position at Tell Beder some three hours prior. US personnel contacted Turkish officials to warn them to pull the drones away from the area, and they appeared to comply, US military officials said, adding that the drones were not flying directly above the US base.