A U.S. military aircraft shot down an unmanned Turkish drone over Syria Thursday after it came close to U.S. troops on the ground. The incident is a rare case of one NATO member using military force on another.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said the U.S. chose to shoot down the armed drone in order to protect its ground forces.
The choice "was made out of due diligence and the inherent right of self-defense to take appropriate action to protect U.S. forces,” Ryder said. "We have no indication that Turkey was intentionally targeting U.S. forces."
The drone came within 500 yards of U.S. troops, who ultimately sheltered in bunkers while Turkey conducted bombings nearby.
U.S. military officials, speaking to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. made dozens of calls to Turkish counterparts warning of the presence of U.S. troops, before deciding to shoot down the drone.
U.S. F-16 fighters intercepted and shot down the drone at around 11:40 a.m. local time.
There are about 900 U.S. troops in Syria, on missions to counter Islamic State influence in the area.
Turkey on Wednesday carried out airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against Kurdish militant targets. The country did not immediately comment on the downed drone.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. CQ Brown spoke with Turkish officials after the incident, reiterating the importance of the U.S. relationship with Turkey but also warning that future incidents must be avoided to ensure the safety of U.S. personnel.
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