Turkey intensified airstrikes on America’s Kurdish allies in Syria after the U.S. shot down a Turkish drone in the region, a rare instance of two NATO allies coming into conflict and which led the lira to weaken.
Turkish air raids targeting militants in northern Syria add to tensions between Ankara and Washington. They have been at odds over American support for armed groups that Turkey sees as terrorists.
Turkey said its warplanes struck oil wells, warehouses and headquarters operated by Kurdish YPG fighters. The attack late Thursday took place after the U.S. Defense Department said an American F-16 jet shot down a Turkish drone that flew to within half a kilometer of U.S. forces in Syria.
The unmanned aircraft was operated by Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency, which was conducting cross-border operations in retaliation for a suicide-bomb in the Turkish capital on Sunday. The attack, which injured two security officers, was claimed by Kurdish militant group PKK and organized from Syria, according to Turkish intelligence.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry acknowledged that the armed drone belonged to Turkey in a written statement on Friday. It said the drone “was lost over differences in technical assessments… with third parties”.
U.S. Defense Department spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder said there was no sign the drone planned to strike American troops. Nonetheless, Turkey’s operations have stoked fresh tensions with Washington, which supports Kurdish forces who it says have played a major role in the U.S.-led effort to defeat the Islamic State.
Ties between the two NATO allies have recently come under more strain, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delaying Sweden’s entry to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
“Aerial operations were aimed at eliminating the terrorist threat emanating from northern Syria,” the Turkish Defense Ministry said.
The lira fell as much as 0.8 percent to a record low against the U.S. dollar when markets opened Friday. It later trimmed losses and was trading 0.2 percent lower at 27.61 per dollar at 2:28 p.m. in Istanbul.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin urged de-escalation in a phone call with his Turkish counterpart, while acknowledging Turkey’s “legitimate security concerns,” the Pentagon said in a statement. He affirmed a commitment to close coordination with Ankara to prevent any risk to US forces in Syria.
Turkey has since 2015 urged Washington to stop arming and training YPG militants. The U.S., for its part, has warned Turkey against unilateral airstrikes that could threaten American personnel.
Kurdish groups retain control over a large swathe of territory in Syria, which has been mired in a civil war since 2011.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Damascus-based government has largely consolidated its rule elsewhere in the country with the help of Russia and Iran. On Thursday, rebel forces hit a military academy in the Assad-controlled city of Homs, killing over 100 people, according to U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Syria’s state-media put the number of dead at 80.