The U.S. military’s top partner in Syria is praising the United States’ shootdown of a Turkish drone in the civil war-torn country, and it’s calling on President Joe Biden‘s administration to take even further action against its own ally.
“The attack on a Turkish drone is not enough in light of the widespread brutal targeting of service infrastructure in the region and the international parties—America and Russia— turning a blind eye to it,” Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spokesperson Farhad Shami told Newsweek.
“There has to be a firm response and prevention of this targeting and preventing them,” he added, “as happened with the Turkish reconnaissance plane that was shot down.”
Sinam Mohamad, representative of the SDF’s political wing, the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), in Washington, D.C., welcomed the U.S. action, but she too called for further steps to be taken against Turkey, officially known as Türkiye.
“Of course, it’s good that the Americans used the F-16 to stop the drone,” Mohamad told Newsweek. “But they have to put even more pressure on Turkey to stop it from bombing all over northeast Syria.”
“The U.S. Air Forces’ successful operation against the Turkish drone was a direct response to Turkey’s unprovoked attacks against us,” she added. “I call on the international community to act immediately and stop Turkey.”
Reports emerged earlier Thursday of the rare NATO-on-NATO clash, with the Associated Press citing U.S. officials who said a U.S. F-16 shot down a Turkish unmanned aerial vehicle operating near the northeastern Syrian city of Al-Hasakah earlier that morning.
While neither U.S. nor Turkish officials have yet confirmed the incident, Mohamad said that the action appeared to take place after the Turkish drone veered “too close” to a U.S. military base.
As the news began to spread, the Turkish Defense Ministry announced that Turkish Chief of Staff General Metin Gurak held a telephone conversation with his U.S. counterpart General Charles Q. Brown, Jr. to discuss “current developments.” Turkish Defense Minister Yasar Guler also spoke with his U.S. counterpart Lloyd Austin.
A Pentagon readout later alluded to “today’s incident,” without getting into detail. Austin was said to have “urged de-escalation in northern Syria and the importance of maintaining strict adherence to de-confliction protocols and communication through established military-to-military channels.”
“Both leaders reiterated our shared commitment to defeating ISIS,” the readout said. “The Secretary acknowledged Türkiye’s legitimate security concerns and affirmed his commitment to close coordination between the United States and Türkiye to prevent any risk to U.S. forces or the Global Coalition’s Defeat-ISIS Mission in northeast Syria exclusively in support of the campaign to defeat ISIS.”
Newsweek has reached out to NATO, the Turkish Embassy to the United States and U.S. Central Command for comment.
The attack has the potential to have major consequences for relations between Washington and Ankara, which are already fraught over diverging policies in Syria.
Both the U.S. and Turkey, officially known as Türkiye, were leading supporters of an insurgency that erupted in Syria against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011. As the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) took large swathes of land, however, the U.S. shifted its backing to the largely Kurdish-led SDF, the SDC’s military wing, which led a successful charge to defeat the jihadis’ self-proclaimed caliphate.
But Ankara views the SDF as having direct ties to the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey. Both Washington and Ankara consider the PKK to be a terrorist organization.
For years, Turkish forces and allied rebels, who are primarily Arab, have clashed with Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has led at least four major ground offensives largely targeting Kurdish presence across the border in spite of U.S. protests.
Amid ongoing violence, the situation escalated sharply earlier this week when a suicide bombing claimed by the PKK struck a Turkish police headquarters in Ankara, injuring two. One Turkish civilian was also reportedly killed by the perpetrators in a hijacking leading up to the attack.
The Turkish Armed Forces responded with a sweeping series of strikes across northern Syria and northern Iraq, where Ankara has also identified PKK elements.
Mohamad said such attacks are still ongoing against Syrian cities along the border, from Ayn al-Arab, known to Kurds as Kobani, to Al-Malikiyah, called Derik in Kurdish.
“Oil stations, water stations, gas, electricity, all the infrastructure is being bombed,” she said. “Nobody could stop them.”
And while she noted that “this time the Americans targeted the drone of Turkey and stopped it” due to its proximity to a U.S. base, she said it was “essential for us” that Washington adopt further measures to put an end to Ankara’s campaign.
Whether she was concerned as to how Turkey might react to the U.S. action, she said the “The opposite is true.”
“We are very concerned and troubled how a NATO ally of the U.S., Turkey, has taken international law into its own hands and attacked us, an American ally in Syria that continues to partner with the US military to defeat ISIS,” she said.
Drones were also at the center of another volatile development in northern Syria on Wednesday. At least 80 people were killed when a yet unclaimed drone strike targeted a graduation ceremony for students at the Homs Military Academy, a 90-year-old institution led by the Syrian government.
In a statement, the Syrian Foreign Ministry condemned the attack “in the strongest terms” and laid blame on “terrorist organizations” that Damascus alleged were being supported by both Washington and Ankara. In response, Syrian troops reportedly began shelling the opposition-held province of Idlib.
Responding to the eruption of violence across Syria on Wednesday, U.N. special envoy for Syria Geir Perdersen said he was “gravely concerned” in a statement shared with Newsweek by his office.
“I deeply deplore the loss of life on all sides. I urgently appeal to all sides to exercise the utmost restraint,” Pedersen said. “Today’s horrific scenes are a reminder of the need to immediately de-escalate violence, towards a nationwide ceasefire and a cooperative approach to countering Security Council-listed terrorist groups, in line with Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).”
“All sides must respect their obligations under international law,” he added, “and ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure.”
This is a developing news story and more information will be added as it becomes available.