The Pentagon announced on Thursday that a U.S. fighter jet was forced to shoot down an armed Turkish unmanned aerial system that was operating near American troops in Syria.
American forces issued several warnings for the drone to stay away from U.S. ground troops near al Hasakah in northeastern Syria. After those went unheeded, the U.S. responded by downing the Turkish unmanned aircraft.
A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon fired and successfully downed the drone. It is believed to be the first time that the U.S. has shot down any aircraft from Turkey, a NATO ally.
The Pentagon described the incident as regrettable, but said that no U.S. forces were injured. It added that there were no indications that the Turkish drone, which came within a kilometer of U.S. troops, was targeting U.S. ground forces.
“It’s regrettable when you have two NATO allies and there’s an incident like this,” Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told reporters Thursday.
The airstrike on the drone came well inside a declared U.S.-restricted operating zone, and U.S. troops were forced to relocate to bunkers, Ryder added.
The drone was reported to be a Bayraktar TB2, a medium-altitude, long-endurance drone developed by Turkey. It was armed with air-to-ground missiles.
Turkey Targeting Kurdish Positions
The incident followed recent Turkish strikes on Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria. Ankara ramped up hostilities after Kurdish militants claimed responsibility for a bomb attack in the Turkish capital on Sunday. The Turkish government views the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as a wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which numerous nations have designated a terrorist organization.
The downing of the drone is likely to further increase tensions between Washington and Ankara. Turkey has long been unhappy with U.S. support of the SDF in its campaign against ISIS forces.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke by phone with his Turkish counterpart after the incident. During the call, he said the U.S. is in Syria only to hunt Islamic State terrorists, Ryder said, Politico reported.
“The Secretary also acknowledged Turkey’s legitimate security concerns and underscored the importance of close coordination between the United States and Turkey to prevent any risk to US forces or the global coalition to defeat ISIS mission,” Ryder further noted.
A Complicated Situation in Syria
The backdrop of Thursday’s incident is the ongoing civil war in Syria, which has now lasted more than 12 years.
U.S. forces in the region are largely focused on supporting the SDF in its fight against ISIS, but the SDF also engages against the forces of the Syrian Arab Republic, which is supported by Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah, and the Syrian Interim Government, which Turkey has backed since 2016.
The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, also known as Rojava, is a de facto autonomous region in Northeastern Syria. It sprawls across about one-quarter of Syria’s territory. The SDF does not claim to pursue full independence but is seeking autonomy within a federal and democratic Syria.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.