Confusion over nationality as Washington says it suspects drone is of Russian origin but Moscow claims all its planes have returned to base
Turkish warplanes shot down an unidentified drone in Turkish air space nearSyria on Friday, amid confusion about its nationality.
A US official said Washington suspected that the drone was Russian but the defence ministry in Moscow said all of its planes in Syria had safely returned to base and that all its drones were operating “as planned”.
The Lebanon-based pro-Syrian Al-Mayadeen TV quoted an unnamed Syrian military official as saying that no Syrian or Russian warplane or drone was shot down over Turkey.
The downing of the drone highlights the risks to Turkey, a member of Nato, as Syrian, Russian and US coalition aircraft fly combat missions so close to its borders.
The Turkish military said its jets had shot down the aircraft after it continued flying despite three warnings, in line with its rules of engagement. Broadcaster NTV said it had come 3km (1.9 miles) into Turkish air space.
“It’s a drone. We are trying to identify its nationality,” said a senior Turkish government official.
A US official said that Washington suspected it was a Russian drone, but declined to give any more details.
Russian jets violated Turkish air space on two occasions earlier this month and Turkey has warned it will respond if the incursions are repeated.
Since 2013, Turkey has shot down a Syrian military jet, a helicopter and an unmanned surveillance drone that have strayed into Turkish airspace. The incidents occurred after it changed its rules of engagement following the downing of a Turkish fighter jet by Syria.
Russia’s air strikes in Syria mean that Russian and Nato planes are now flying combat missions in the same air space for the first time since the second world war.
The Russian air force officially informed the Turkish military on Thursday about the violations by Russian jets earlier this month, and about steps it would take to prevent a repetition.
Turkey has also reported unidentified aircraft and Syria-based missile air defence systems harassing its warplanes several times in recent months.
The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, said on Friday that Russian airstrikes in Syria have killed hundreds of militants, telling a meeting of leaders of ex-Soviet nations in Kazakhstan that the Russian military has achieved “impressive” results during the air campaign in Syria that began on 30 September.
He said the strikes will continue “for the period of the Syrian troops’ offensive operations against terrorists,” but did not elaborate further.