Russia kills three Turkish soldiers in accidental Syria bombing
ISTANBUL, Turkey - Three Turkish soldiers have been killed and 11 others wounded in an accidental Russian air strike near the northern Syrian town of al-Bab, Moscow and Ankara said on Thursday.
The Turkish military said the three soldiers were killed in the morning when a Russian jet accidently bombed a Turkish building near the town, which is held by the Islamic State group.
The Kremlin confirmed the accidental bombing, and expressed condolences and sorrow to Turkey. Russian media also reported a phone conversation between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, where the two leaders agreed to coordinate more intensely in the fight against IS in Syria.
The attack came after earlier reports that forces loyal to the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad had clashed with Turkish forces and their Free Syrian Army allies in al-Bab, which reportedly killed five people.
TRANSLATION: Our units were once again attacked by the Assad regime in the al-Bab region. There are martyrs.
Reports also say that Turkish artillery is shelling Syrian regime positions to the west of al-Bab.
These reports began arriving before confirmation of the accidental Russian air strike. It was unclear whether the reports were treating the Syrian government forces and the Russian military as the same entity due to their alliance.
Middle East Eye was unable to independently verify any of these reports.
Turkish officials had not responded to any of these reports, or to MEE’s request for comment by late Thursday evening.
These incidents come as CIA director Mike Pompeo arrived in Ankara for his first foreign visit since his appointment. Pompeo is set to meet with Turkey’s intelligence chief, prime minister and president during his one-day visit.
Turkish officials said on Wednesday a plan to jointly liberate Raqqa with US troops had been tabled by Ankara, and that US President Donald Trump was open to such an action.
These statements followed a telephone conversation between Erdogan and Trump on Tuesday night.
Turkey has stepped up its military operation to take al-Bab from IS fighters amid intensified fighting in the last 48 hours.
At least 10 Turkish soldiers have been reported killed in the last 48 hours alone.
The military operation is part of Turkey’s Euphrates Shield operation. It was launched on 24 August with the stated intention to clear a 5,000 square km area of potential threats to Turkey. This includes IS and Syrian-Kurdish PYD and YPG forces.
At least 70 Turkish deaths have been reported since the operation got underway.
Ankara fell out with the former US administration of Barack Obama over the latter’s preference to use and arm PYD/YPG forces as its main ground force in the fight against IS.
Turkey became closer to Moscow after falling out with Washington. It swiftly restored ties that had become frayed after Turkish jets had shot down a Russian jet near the Syrian border in November 2015.
This closeness is believed to have helped end the fighting in Aleppo. It also led to the Astana talks seeking an end to the conflict in Syria.
Ankara is hoping that Trump will opt to proceed differently, and wants it to cooperate with Turkey to oust IS from its stronghold and self-declared capital of Raqqa.
Turkey has come under severe attack from IS-linked militants with several deadly attacks carried out in the last year.
Turkish security forces rounded up more than 700 IS-linked suspects over the weekend.