US F-16 warplanes on Thursday shot down a drone belonging to NATO ally Turkey that was deemed a potential threat to American forces in Syria, Agence France-Presse reported, citing the Pentagon.
The incident came as Turkey carries out airstrikes targeting Kurdish forces in the area following a suicide bombing on Sunday in Ankara that was claimed by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is considered a terror group by Turkey and its Western allies.
US forces observed drones carrying out airstrikes in northeast Syria on Thursday morning, some of them inside a “restricted operating zone” (ROZ) near Hasakah, about a kilometer (less than a mile) from American troops, Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Patrick S. Ryder told journalists.
A few hours later, a Turkish drone returned to the ROZ heading toward US forces.
“US commanders assessed that the UAV, which was now less than a half kilometer from US forces, to be a potential threat and US F-16 fighters subsequently shot down the UAV in self-defense,” he said, using an abbreviation for unmanned aerial vehicle.
The United States has approximately 900 troops deployed in Syria as part of international efforts to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, and carries out frequent raids targeting the ISIL militants.
The incident adds another layer of tension between the United States and Turkey over differing military strategies in Syria and other issues.
The Turkish Defense Ministry denied that the drone belonged to its armed forces, as reported by Reuters. Some reports said it belonged to the Turkish intelligence agency, MİT.
The shootdown comes amid ongoing Turkish airstrikes against Kurdish militants, whom Turkey blames for the bombing attack in Ankara. The US troops in Syria have been collaborating with Kurdish-led forces to combat the ISIL.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is expected to engage in talks with Turkish officials, further highlighting the strained relations between the two countries. These tensions also extend to Turkey’s ejection from the advanced F-35 jet fighter program and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s relations with Moscow.
In a related development, Erdoğan recently dropped his opposition to Sweden’s NATO membership bid after discussions with US President Joe Biden. However, Erdoğan stated that final approval would depend on the US sale of F-16 jet fighters to Turkey. Sweden has reportedly addressed Turkey’s concerns, including the enactment of a new antiterrorism law, and is awaiting approval for NATO membership.