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Turkey says it will not bow to threats after US downs its drone in Syria

Erdogan's spokesman insists strikes on Kurdish targets will continue despite confrontation between two Nato allies
A man walks close to a fire raging at the Zarba oil facility in al-Qahtaniyah following Turkish strikes on 5 October (AFP)
A man walks close to a fire raging at the Zarba oil facility in al-Qahtaniyah, northern Syria, following Turkish strikes on 5 October (AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

A top Turkish official said on Friday that Turkey wouldn’t stop pursuing "terror groups" or bow to threats following the downing of a Turkish drone by US forces in Syria.

“We will eradicate terrorism, whether in northern Iraq, northern Syria or anywhere else,” said Fahrettin Altun, the Turkish president’s communications director. “We will not bow to threats and we will not compromise our security.”

The downing of the drone on Thursday came as Turkish strikes pummelled parts of key infrastructure in Kurdish-held areas, and marked the first-ever Nato-on-Nato armed clash in Syria.

The Turkish strikes have been a response to a bomb attack in Ankara last week that was claimed by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a militant group that has waged an insurgency against Ankara for decades.

In the wake of the bombing, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan had warned that no target was off limits, and also called on “third parties” to avoid PKK-linked groups in Syria.

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The United States has a military presence in northeast Syria, where it has partnered up with the People’s Protection Units (YPG), an organisation Ankara considers the Syrian arm of the PKK. Washington has used the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces militia as its primary partner in Syria in the fight against the Islamic State group since 2014, though it considers the PKK a terror group.

Altun on Friday said one cannot fight against “a terrorist group through another terrorist group”, adding that aiding such organisations for this purpose was “truly tremendous stupidity”.

He indirectly called on Washington to stop aiding the Kurdish groups.

Nato on Nato

On Thursday evening, the Pentagon said it had shot down the Turkish aircraft “in self-defence” after it had entered “a US-restricted” territory where US Special Forces were hiding in a bunker.

The Pentagon added that it regretted the incident and its assessment was that the drone didn’t intend to target US forces.

The episode marked the first armed conflict between Nato allies in Syria. It is also the first time in Nato’s history that an ally has shot down another’s unmanned aerial vehicle.

Despite the Turkish defence ministry saying on Thursday that the downed drone did not belong to its forces, a foreign ministry statement the next day acknowledged that it belonged to Turkey.

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Multiple sources in Ankara told Middle East Eye that the drone was possibly operated by the Turkish intelligence rather than the army, which created the confusion.

“During the operation, one armed drone was lost due to different technical evaluations in the de-confliction mechanism coordinated with third parties,” the Turkish foreign ministry said.

“Necessary measures are being taken to ensure more effective operation of the de-confliction mechanism with the relevant parties.”

Turkey continued to hit targets in northeastern Syria overnight following the incident, mostly targeting the oil wells and energy infrastructure operated by Syrian Kurdish groups.

“The incident in question did not affect the execution of the ongoing operation and the hitting of the identified targets in any way,” the ministry said, adding that Ankara would continue to systematically destroy PKK infrastructure.

The Turkish raids also hit two power stations and an area close to a dam.

Kurdish forces say 11 people were killed. Turkey's military on Friday said it had "neutralised" 26 Kurdish fighters.

The air strikes could be seen and heard in al-Roj camp, where the wives and children of suspected Islamic State fighters are detained, according to a source.

The camp was left without water and electricity, the source added.

A Turkish police officer was also killed on Thursday evening in a rocket attack on a Turkish base in Syria.

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