Turkey conducted airstrikes on US-backed Kurdish militant groups in northern Syria after the US shot down an armed Turkish drone that flew too close to American ground forces — in a rare instance of two NATO allies coming into open conflict with one another.
(Bloomberg) — Turkey conducted airstrikes on US-backed Kurdish militant groups in northern Syria after the US shot down an armed Turkish drone that flew too close to American ground forces — in a rare instance of two NATO allies coming into open conflict with one another.
Turkish F-16 warplanes hit oil wells, warehouses and headquarters operated by Kurdish YPG fighters in northwest Syria late Thursday, the Defense Ministry said. The attack took place after the US Defense Department spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder said an American F-16 fighter jet shot down the Turkish drone that flew to within half a kilometer of US forces in Syria.
Ryder added there was no sign the drone planned to strike US troops. But its downing added to US-Turkey tensions that have been fanned by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s delays in allowing Sweden to enter the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, amid other sore spots. Chief among those is the continued US backing for Kurdish militants that Turkey says are linked to terrorists.
The offensive by Turkish fighter jets came several hours after similar drone strikes by the country’s National Intelligence Agency in Syria’s northeast in retaliation for a suicide-bomb attack by Kurdish militants from Syria in the Turkish capital over the weekend, the government said. The offensive stoked fresh tensions with Washington, which supports Kurdish forces who have played a major role in the US-led effort to defeat the Islamic State.
Read: US Shoots Down Turkish Drone That Approached Troops in Syria
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin urged de-escalation in northern Syria 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 between the allies to prevent any risk to US forces who are in northeast Syria, the readout said.
Turkey has long asked Washington to stop arming and training YPG militants while the US warned Turkey against unilateral airstrikes that could threaten American personnel. For Turkey, Washington’s support for Kurdish militants in Syria remains a sore point between the NATO allies. Kurdish groups retain control over a large swathe of territory in Syria’s northeast while 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.
Read: All About the YPG, the Syrian Kurds Vexing Turkey: QuickTake
Turkey views the YPG, whose ranks are thought to include tens of thousands of fighters, as a security threat due to its ties to the PKK — a group that seeks an autonomous region for Kurds inside Turkey. The PKK has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s bomb attack in Ankara which left two policemen wounded. The broader conflict has killed tens of thousands of people since 1984.
“Aerial operations were aimed at eliminating the terrorist threat emanating from northern Syria,” the Turkish Defense Ministry said, adding the airstrike targeted the northwestern Syrian town of Tal Rifat, from where Kurdish YPG forces have staged hit-and-run attacks on Turkish troops and allied Syrian rebels.
Turkey’s last major incursion into the area took place in late 2019, with the stated aim of pushing armed groups away from the Turkish-Syrian border. Turkey 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 Sweden in cracking down on supporters of Kurdish militants before approving its bid to join NATO.
Read: Why US-Turkey Relations Hinge on a Fighter Jet Deal: QuickTake
–With assistance from Firat Kozok.
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