Three Turkish soldiers killed in suspected Syrian government air strike

Three Turkish soldiers killed in suspected Syrian government air strike

Sevil Erkuş – ANKARA
Three Turkish soldiers killed in suspected Syrian government air strike

AFP photo

An air strike “thought to have been carried” out by Syrian government forces killed three Turkish soldiers and wounded 10 others, one of them seriously, early on Nov. 24, the Turkish Armed Forces has announced.

The attack occurred at around 3:30 am in the course of the Operations Euphrates Shield in northern Syria, the army statement said, adding that the wounded soldiers were evacuated rapidly from the area.

It is the first time Turkish soldiers are known to have been killed by Syrian government forces in the offensive which was launched on Aug. 24.

Because there were no Syrian opposition causalities and the air strike hit a provisional Turkish military quarter in the region, the strike is believed to have intentionally targeted the Turkish army, according to initial assessments in Ankara. 

The air strike occurred on Nov. 24, the anniversary of Turkey’s downing of a Russian plane due to an airspace violation in 2015. The act precipitated a furious reaction from Moscow against Ankara.

A military offensive by the Syrian government in Aleppo province raise the possibility of a possible confrontation between Syria and Turkey as the latter’s military, together with its proxy Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters, move to besiege the town of al-Bab.

The Syrian government plans to capture al-Bab and dropped flyers in the town last week warning civilians that an air operation was about to start, according to Turkish security sources. 

The Turkish Air Force resumed flights in Syrian airspace on Nov. 11 after three weeks of suspension following an agreement between Turkish and Russian army chiefs at a meeting in Moscow. Since Nov. 12, however, Turkish warplanes have still been subject to Syrian missile threats in northern Syria from time to time.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s media watchdog, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), announced that a gag order on reporting the air strike had been imposed by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu also warned that the air strike could drag Turkey into a “perilous process” and urged the government to act with discretion.

“The statement made by the General Staff and the news that our soldiers were shot by aircraft belonging to the Syrian government, could bring us to a very dangerous door. It could drag Turkey into a very dangerous process,” Kılıçdaroğlu said Nov. 24 in Antalya.

Expressing his concerns, Kılıçdaroğlu called on the government to act with common sense.

“I cannot say anything beyond recommending that government officials act with a common sense here. In our region, Turkey was a basic balancing factor. I believe it’s very important to act with common sense,” he said.

The commander of Turkey’s special forces for the Euphrates Shield Operation, Lt. Gen. Zekai Aksakallı, also visited the wounded soldiers accompanied by Kilis Gov. İsmail Çataklı.

The attack marks the first intervention by Syrian forces targeting Turkish soldiers since the launch of the operation with FSA fighters to clear Syria’s northern border area of militant groups.

The air strike brings the number of Turkish casualties in the Euphrates Shield operation to 16, 12 of whom were killed in ISIL attacks and one of whom was killed accidentally.

In addition, Turkish warplanes conducted an airstrike against 14 ISIL targets in the al-Bab, Kabbasin, Bzagah and Arimah regions, destroying one command center and seven defense positions belonging to ISIL militants.