A US F-16 fighter jet shot down an armed Turkish drone over northeast Syria on Wednesday, a US official told The Wall Street Journal.
According to Reuters, the Turkish Defense Ministry denied that it was a Turkish drone. But US officials said it was identified as belonging to Turkey, believed to be armed, and was operating close to US troops.
If the US account is correct, the incident marks the first time the US downed an aircraft belonging to Turkey, a NATO ally. The US and Turkey have long been at odds over US support for the Kurdish-led SDF in northeast Syria, which Ankara considers an offshoot of the PKK, a group that took credit for a suicide bombing that hit Ankara on Sunday.
In response to the suicide attack, Turkey has been targeting Kurdish sites in northern Iraq allegedly tied to the PKK. Turkish airstrikes were also reported in Syria on Thursday, with the SDF saying at least nine people were killed in Turkish attacks.
On Wednesday, Turkey said the attackers in Ankara entered Turkey through Syria. “All infrastructure, superstructure and energy facilities that belong to the PKK and the YPG, especially in Iraq and Syria, are legitimate targets of our security forces, armed forces and intelligence units from now on,” said Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan.
The YPG is the main military wing of the US-backed SDF. The escalation with Turkey comes as the SDF has been fighting Arab tribes in Syria’s eastern Deir Ezzor province.