(CNN) — A US F-16 fighter jet shot down an armed Turkish drone in northeast Syria that was operating near US military personnel and Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, officials familiar with the incident told CNN.
The US assessed the armed drone posed a potential threat and issued more than a dozen warnings before shooting it down, the officials said. It is unclear how the warnings were issued. US forces exercised their right to self-defense in shooting down the drone, officials said.
There were no reports of US casualties, an official said.
Several drones made repeated approaches toward US troop positions in Hasakah, Syria, the officials said. Turkish airstrikes targeted several Kurdish-controlled areas in northeastern Syria on Thursday, killing at least eight people, including six security forces, and wounded three civilians, according to a statement by Kurdish Internal Security Force, Asayish.
The incidents put the US in a precarious position. Turkey is a NATO ally and a critical partner for the US in the region, as well as playing a key role in the Ukraine conflict. At the same time, the SDF partners with the US in the campaign to defeat ISIS.
The Turkish Defense Ministry said the drone didn’t belong to the Turkish armed forces, Reuters reported. CNN is reaching out to the Turkish government.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Turkish counterpart following the downing of the drone.
“The Secretary reaffirmed that the United States remains in Syria exclusively in support of the campaign to defeat ISIS,” Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said on Thursday afternoon. “The Secretary also acknowledged Turkey’s legitimate security concerns and underscored the importance of close coordination between the United States and Turkey to prevent any risk to US forces or the global coalition to defeat ISIS mission.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. CQ Brown also spoke with his Turkish counterpart following the incident, and discussed “the need to follow common deconfliction protocols to ensure the safety of our personnel in Syria following today’s incident,” according to a readout of their call.
Ryder said the unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV was “conducting airstrikes,” some of which were inside “a declared US restricted operating zone” near US forces. Those forces were relocated to bunkers, Ryder said.
“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 shut down the UAV in self-defense at approximately 1140 local time,” Ryder said. “It’s important to point out that no US forces were injured during the incident.”
He said there were “no initial indications that Turkey was intentionally targeting US forces.” Ryder added that it was a “regrettable incident” but described Austin’s phone call as a “very productive discussion.”
US forces operate closely alongside the Kurds in northern Syria as part of the anti-ISIS coalition there. Turkey considers the Kurdish forces to be a terrorist organization and regularly targets them inside Iraq and Syria.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said on Wednesday that Turkey considers all Kurdish militia facilities and infrastructure in Syria and Iraq as “legitimate targets” after the Kurdistan Workers Party carried out a suicide attack in Ankara on Sunday.
Fidan added that “third parties” should stay away from the Kurds.
“I advise third parties to stay away from PKK and YPG facilities and individuals,” he said. “Our armed forces’ response to this terrorist attack will be extremely clear and they will once again regret committing such an action.”
Last November, a Turkish drone strike in northeast Syria endangered US troops and personnel, according to the US military. That prompted a call between the top US general and his Turkish counterpart.
The strike targeted a base near Hasakah, Syria, used by US and coalition forces in the ongoing campaign to defeat ISIS. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said two of their fighters were killed in the attack. The strike earned a stern rebuke from the Pentagon, which said it “directly threatened the safety of US personnel.”
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