Turkey takes preventive measures to avoid friendly fire with Russia in Syria
Uğur Ergan - ANKARATurkey has introduced fresh measures to prevent operational mishaps in Syria after Russia inadvertently killed three Turkish troops with a strike on a position near al-Bab on Feb. 9, by imposing 24-hour patrols over the airspace between the Turkish border and al-Bab and by instructing its warplanes to conduct flights in parallel with Russian jets.
Daily Hürriyet, meanwhile, has also obtained additional information as to how the Feb. 9 incident occurred.
According to the information gathered by Hürriyet, the Turkish Air Force has imposed two measures after the incident on Feb. 9. First, in a bid to avoid a similar incident, Turkish warplanes have been instructed to fly in parallel with Russian warplanes in Syrian airspace. Additionally, many Russian warplanes had to return to their bases in Hmeimim after the Turkish intervention in the aftermath of the incident, but this measure was temporary and is no longer being implemented.
The other and more permanent measure concerns 24-hour patrols over the air space between the Turkish border and al-Bab in a bid to monitor the region and stop similar inadvertent attacks by other countries’ warplanes.
‘Syrian regime misled Russians’
According to a Turkish Armed Force (TSK) statement on Feb. 10, Turkey informed Russia on Feb. 8 through a recently established hot line between the former’s Eskişehir military base and the latter’s airbase in Hmeimim that the Syrian army had fired a rocket at the area in which Turkish troops had been located.
The information, whose records were also given to Russian authorities again after the attack on Feb. 9, included updated coordinates of the Turkish positions near al-Bab with a clear demand that the Syrian army should be warned that such attacks should not be repeated.
Ankara has reportedly never thought that the Feb. 9 accident was a deliberate action by Russia to test Turkey and its reactions – a message that was also relayed to Russian authorities after the incident. Ankara, however, expressed concern that the Russian army might have been misled by the Syrian army personnel in Hmeimim airbase through misinformation that the Turkish positions near al-Bab had been recaptured by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Turkey and Russia have taken joint measures to make the existing hotline between Eskişehir and Hmeimim more efficient with efforts to create new contact lines at lower levels.
No ‘mistaken coordinates’ from Turkey
Moscow immediately ascribed the deadly air strike to poor coordination between Turkish and Russian military officials after the incident, while Russia said the strikes were conducted based on coordinates provided by the Turkish military.
“Unfortunately, our military, while carrying out strikes on terrorists, were guided by coordinates given to them by our Turkish partners. Turkish servicemen should not have been present at those coordinates,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a conference call with reporters on Feb. 10.
The Turkish military strongly denied a Russian claim that it provided “mistaken coordinates” that led to the death of three of its soldiers, saying its elements had been present in the same location for approximately 10 days.
“On Feb. 8, after a rocket was fired from the region controlled by the Russian Federation at the point where friendly elements were located, the coordinates of the point where our elements were located was most transmitted again on the same day at 23.11 to the responsible personnel at the Hmeimim Operation Center,” said the Turkish military.
The Turkish military said it had been regularly sharing information with Russia in regard to the Euphrates Shield Operation since an agreement was signed between the two on Jan. 12 with the aim of preventing troops from harming each other, the TSK said in a statement.