October 6, 2023 | Flash Brief

U.S. Shoots Down Turkish Drone Threatening Troops in Syria

October 6, 2023 | Flash Brief

U.S. Shoots Down Turkish Drone Threatening Troops in Syria

Latest Developments

The United States and Turkey worked to defuse tensions after the October 5 downing of an armed Turkish drone by an American F-16 in northeast Syria. The drone reportedly flew within half a kilometer of U.S. forces operating against the Islamic State. The downing marked America’s first-ever use of military force against Turkey, a NATO ally. U.S. officials said that while they had no reason to believe Turkey was attempting to target U.S. troops, the drone operators ignored multiple warnings to stay away.

Turkish forces have conducted military operations against the rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its affiliates after the PKK claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in Ankara on October 1 that wounded two police officers. Among the PKK’s offshoots is the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which closely collaborates with American forces in Syria to combat ISIS. The SDF’s collaboration with the United States has caused years of friction between Washington and Ankara, as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan considers the SDF a terrorist organization.

Expert Analysis

“The decision to shoot down a Turkish drone is representative of America’s frustration with Ankara’s repeated efforts to threaten the safety of U.S. troops as well their SDF partners, who have been vital to defeating the ISIS threat. Previous administrations have appealed to Turkey’s better nature by asking the Erdogan government not to escalate tensions in the region. The use of force demonstrates America’s commitment to safeguarding the lives of its service members in addition to its partners.” — Sinan Ciddi, FDD Non-Resident Senior Fellow

“Hopefully Ankara will pay greater heed to warnings from U.S. forces in the future and work through any ‘deconfliction’ challenges. If not, Ankara should expect more of the same as U.S. forces exercise their right to self-defense.” — Bradley Bowman, Senior Director of FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power

Turkey Targets PKK and YPG

Turkey’s bombing campaign against Kurdish militant organizations began hours after the October 1 terrorist attack and continued through the week, including strikes against Kurdish militant targets in Syria on October 5 that destroyed an oil well, a storage facility, shelters and killed militants. Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said on October 4 that Turkey considers any infrastructure and energy facilities owned and controlled by the PKK or the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) legitimate targets. He also warned all third parties in the region — likely meaning the United States — to take necessary precautions and avoid being near areas controlled by the YPG.

The YPG units comprise a large portion of the SDF, making their presence around U.S. troops a common occurrence. In 2019, Turkey mistakenly fired on U.S. troops in northern Syria. In April 2023, a Turkish drone unsuccessfully targeted SDF Gen. Mazloum Abdi in northern Iraq while he rode in a convoy with three U.S. military personnel.

Turkey Blames Deconflicting Issues

Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke by phone with Turkish Minister of National Defense Yasar Guler. Gen. CQ Brown Jr., the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also spoke to Gen. Metin Gürak, chief of the Turkish General Staff. The four parties discussed deconflicting between U.S. and Turkish military operations.

The Turkish Ministry of Defense released a statement on October 6, stating that one of its drones “was lost due to different technical assessments in the deconfliction mechanism with third parties.” It noted that the parties are taking steps to improve deconfliction.

Turkey Threatens New Military Offensive in Northern Syria,” by Sinan Ciddi and David Adesnik

Biden Must Tell Erdogan To Stop Targeting U.S. Partners,” by Sinan Ciddi

“‘Enough Is Enough’: What Blinken Should Tell Turkey’s Cavusoglu,” by Sinan Ciddi

Erdogan’s Coming U-Turn on Syria,” by Sinan Ciddi


Military and Political Power Syria Turkey