Turkey Escalates Syria Airstrikes After US Downs Its Drone

Turkey intensified airstrikes on America’s Kurdish allies in Syria after the US shot down a Turkish drone in the region, a rare instance of two NATO allies coming into conflict and which led the lira to weaken.

(Bloomberg) — Turkey intensified airstrikes on America’s Kurdish allies in Syria after the US shot down a Turkish drone in the region, a rare instance of two NATO allies coming into conflict and which led the lira to weaken. 

Turkish air raids targeting militants in northern Syria add to tensions between Ankara and Washington. They have been at odds over American support for armed groups that Turkey sees as terrorists.

Turkey said its warplanes struck oil wells, warehouses and headquarters operated by Kurdish YPG fighters. The attack late Thursday took place after the US Defense Department said an American F-16 jet shot down a Turkish drone that flew to within half a kilometer of US forces in Syria.

Turkey Terror Attack Spells Trouble for NATO: Mideast Briefing

The unmanned aircraft was operated by Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency, which was conducting cross-border operations in retaliation for a suicide-bomb in the Turkish capital on Sunday. The attack, which injured two security officers, was claimed by Kurdish militant group PKK and organized from Syria, according to Turkish intelligence.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry acknowledged that the armed drone belonged to Turkey in a written statement on Friday. It said the drone “was lost over differences in technical assessments… with third parties”.

US Defense Department spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder said there was no sign the drone planned to strike American troops. Nonetheless, Turkey’s operations have stoked fresh tensions with Washington, which supports Kurdish forces who it says have played a major role in the US-led effort to defeat the Islamic State.

Ties between the two NATO allies have recently come under more strain, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delaying Sweden’s entry to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“Aerial operations were aimed at eliminating the terrorist threat emanating from northern Syria,” the Turkish Defense Ministry said.

The lira fell as much as 0.8% to a record low against the US dollar when markets opened Friday. It later trimmed losses and was trading 0.2% lower at 27.61 per dollar at 2:28 p.m. in Istanbul.

US Shoots Down Turkish Drone That Approached Troops in Syria

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin urged de-escalation in a phone call with his Turkish counterpart, while acknowledging Turkey’s “legitimate security concerns,” the Pentagon said in a statement. He affirmed a commitment to close coordination with Ankara to prevent any risk to US forces in Syria.

Turkey has since 2015 urged Washington to stop arming and training YPG militants. The US, for its part, has warned Turkey against unilateral airstrikes that could threaten American personnel.

Kurdish groups retain control over a large swathe of territory in Syria, which has been mired in a civil war since 2011. 

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Damascus-based government has largely consolidated its rule elsewhere in the country with the help of Russia and Iran. On Thursday, rebel forces hit a military academy in the Assad-controlled city of Homs, killing over 100 people, according to U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Syria’s state-media put the number of dead at 80.

Read: All About the YPG, the Syrian Kurds Vexing Turkey: QuickTake

Turkey views the YPG, thought to have tens of thousands of fighters, as a security threat due to its ties to the PKK — a separatist group that’s deemed a terrorist organization by the US and European Union.

Turkey’s broader conflict with Kurdish militants has killed tens of thousands of people since 1984.

Turkey’s last major incursion into Syria took place in late 2019, with the stated aim of pushing armed groups away from the border. It later halted its operations following cease-fire agreements with the US and Russia.

Thursday’s air campaign also came as Turkey continues to insist on the full cooperation of Stockholm in cracking down on supporters of Kurdish militants within Sweden before approving its bid to join NATO. 

Read: Why US-Turkey Relations Hinge on a Fighter Jet Deal: QuickTake

(Updates with Turkish Foreign Ministry statement in fifth paragraph, market metrics.)

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