US-led forces reportedly down drone in Syria as Turkey strikes area
PHOTO CAPTION: Representational photo — A U.S. service member oversees militiamen of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as they raise a Tal Abyad Military Council flag, 2019. (Reuters)
ANKARA (Reuters) -U.S.-led forces were reported to have shot down a drone over northern Syria on Thursday as U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish forces said Turkish attacks had killed eight people in an escalation prompted by a bomb attack in Ankara claimed by Kurdish militants.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a local security source said the U.S.-led coalition had shot down a Turkish drone near a base in northeastern Syria.
A Turkish defence ministry official said the drone shot down by the coalition did not belong to the Turkish armed forces, without saying whose property it was. The coalition did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
U.S. support for Kurdish forces in northern Syria has long caused tension with NATO ally Turkey, which views them as a wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) - the group which claimed Sunday's attack in Ankara near government buildings.
Ankara said on Wednesday the two attackers had come from Syria. The bombing killed both attackers and wounded two police officers. The Syrian Democratic Forces, the Kurdish-led force backed by the United States, denied the bombers had passed through its territory.
A Turkish defence ministry official said on Thursday a ground operation into Syria was one option Turkey could consider. Turkey has mounted several previous incursions into northern Syria against the Syrian Kurdish YPG group.
"Our only goal is to eliminate the terrorist organisations that pose a threat to Turkey. A ground operation is one of the options to eliminate this threat, but it is not the only option for us," the official said.
Security forces in northeastern Syria said Turkey had launched a series of attacks on Thursday with more than 15 drones entering the region's airspace and hitting targets including infrastructure and gas and oil stations.
In a statement, the security forces said Turkish attacks killed six members of the internal security forces in northeastern Syria, and two civilians in two separate strikes.
Turkey has redoubled its operations targeting the outlawed PKK, by carrying out air strikes in northern Iraq.
Turkish officials said any infrastructure and energy facilities in Iraq and Syria controlled by the PKK, as well as People's Protection Units (YPG), were legitimate military targets.
"The PKK and the YPG are the same terrorist organisation, they are our legitimate target everywhere. Turkey conducted operations whenever and wherever necessary in the past, and these operations will continue if needed again," the defence ministry official said.
"These operations are being conducted under self-defence rights arising from international law to eliminate terrorist attacks on Turkish territory and to ensure border security."
The YPG is also the spearhead of the main ally of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State. Support for the YPG by the United States and other allies, including France, has strained ties with Ankara.
Turkey has warned forces of third countries to stay away from facilities controlled by the PKK and YPG.
"We are calling on all parties, our friendly and allied countries in particular, to stay away from those terrorists. This is just a reminder. It is up to them to take necessary precautions," the official said, without naming any country.
(Reporting by Huseyin Hayatsever; Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Huseyin Hayatsever and Tom Perry; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, Alex Richardson and Angus MacSwan)