June 18, 2024

The U.S. military on Thursday shot down an armed drone belonging to NATO ally Turkey after it came too close for comfort to American troops in Syria, according to the Pentagon’s top spokesperson.

Press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, who called the event a “regrettable incident,” said the drone came within less than half a mile of U.S. troops as the Turkish aircraft was bombing targets nearby in northeastern Syria.

As American forces were forced to go to bunkers for safety, the drone was deemed a potential threat and was shot down by F-16 aircraft around 11:40 a.m. local time. No U.S. forces were injured during the incident, he said.

Ryder added that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Turkish counterpart by phone afterward to reaffirm “our commitment to continue to closely coordinate,” adding that the talk was “fruitful.”

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. CQ Brown also spoke with his counterpart by phone on “the need to follow common deconfliction protocols to ensure the safety of our personnel in Syria following today’s incident,” according to Joint Staff spokesperson Col. Dave Butler.

This marks the first time Washington has brought down an aircraft of the NATO ally.

U.S. troops are in the region to ensure the Islamic State doesn’t make a resurgence after the terrorist group was defeated in March 2019, an event that came through the help of Kurdish-led forces.

But Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, which views the Kurds as a terrorist group known as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, carries out strikes in Syria against them.

Ryder said Turkish drones had been seen conducting airstrikes in Hasakah, Syria — some of which were inside a declared U.S. restricted operating zone — about 1 km away from U.S. troops earlier in the day. Just hours later, a Turkish drone reentered the zone heading toward where U.S. forces were located.

“U.S. commanders assessed that the UAV, which was now less than a half kilometer from U.S. forces, to be a potential threat,” with the F-16s shooting it down shortly thereafter, Ryder said.

“We have no indication that Turkey was intentionally targeting U.S. forces,” he added.

Ryder would not go into specifics of how U.S. forces communicated with the Turks ahead of the incident, only saying that Washington has “multiple channels of communication at multiple levels.”

The Associated Press reported earlier that the shootdown came after more than a dozen calls to Turkish military officials warning that American forces were on the ground in the area and that the U.S. military would move to protect them if the drone didn’t vacate.

The incident also comes at fragile time for U.S.-Turkish relations, as the United States is looking to convince Turkey to ratify Sweden’s bid for NATO membership.

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