In what United States officials have called “a regrettable incident,” a U.S. F-16 fighter jet shot down a Turkish military drone conducting airstrikes near a base in Syria where American forces, deployed to fight ISIS, are located. The incident occurred on October 5. No U.S. service person was injured, and according to the Pentagon, there is no indication that Turkiye was intentionally targeting U.S. forces.
After the event, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke by phone to his Turkish counterpart Yasar Guler. According to the Pentagon’s readout of the call, Secretary Austin “acknowledged Turkiye’s legitimate security concerns and affirmed his commitment to close coordination between the United States and Turkiye to prevent any risk to U.S. forces or the Global Coalition’s Defeat-ISIS Mission in northeast Syria.”
At a press briefing, Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. General Pat Ryder noted that on the day of the incident, U.S. forces had observed Turkish UAVs conducting airstrikes inside a declared U.S. restricted zone in the vicinity of Hasakah, Syria, and a UAV was heading to where U.S. forces were located:
“It’s a regrettable incident, but U.S. commanders on the ground did assess that there was a potential threat, and so they took prudent action in this scenario. But again, the Secretary has talked to his counterpart. They had the opportunity to have a fruitful conversation and again commit to one another that the U.S. add Turkey will continue to closely communicate and coordinate. … Turkiye does remain a very important and valuable NATO all and partner to the United States.”
Press Secretary Ryder noted that the United States recognizes that the PKK poses a legitimate security threat to Turkiye.
“The PKK has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States. So we condemn any act of terrorism against Turkiye and the people of Turkiye,” he said. “When it comes to northern Syria, we do remain concerned about the potential impact of military escalation in that region, in so much as it affects the civilian population and importantly, as it affects our ability to maintain focus on rooting out ISIS.”
“The coalition and the United States,” said Brig. Gen. Ryder, “remain very, very focused on rooting out the last elements of ISIS in the region.”