The Pentagon confirmed Thursday that U.S. F-16 fighters shot down an armed Turkish drone “in self defense” after it entered a U.S.-declared restricted operating zone in Syria.
This is the first time the U.S. has shot down an armed aircraft of NATO ally Turkey.
Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said that Turkish drones had been conducting airstrikes in the restricted zone but that there was no indication the Turks were targeting U.S. forces. He added that the Turkish drone came within less than a kilometer of U.S. forces, who subsequently went into bunkers.
No troops were harmed during the incident, he said.
A Turkish defense ministry official said that the drone did not belong to Turkish armed forces, but did not provide details.
The incident comes as Turkey has increased its air attacks on Kurdish militants, accusing them of bombing Ankara this past weekend.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also spoke with his Turkish counterpart Yasar Guler and the two committed to closely coordinating in the region, Ryder said.
Thursday’s episode is likely to escalate tensions between Turkey and the U.S.
The two countries are already in dispute over Turkey’s omission from an advanced American F-35 jet fighter program, the U.S.‘s military strategy in Damascus, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ties with Russia.
Erdogan, who has long resisted Sweden’s bid to join NATO, dropped his opposition in July but told local media that the final approval would depend on whether Washington, D.C. would sell F-16 fighter jets to Turkey.