Turkey’s air force has downed an unidentified drone on its border with Syria after it breached Turkish airspace multiple times, the defence ministry said.
The drone, detected near the border by the military, intruded into Turkish airspace six times before it was finally shot down by F-16 jets on Sunday.
“An unmanned aerial vehicle which violated our air space six times [on Saturday] … was downed by two of our F-16s which took off from Incirlik [air base in southern Turkey],” the Ministry of National Defence said, sharing pictures of the downed drone on its official Twitter account.
The ministry said the unknown aircraft was grounded at 1:24pm local time (10:24 GMT), adding that “the wreckage of the drone was found at the Cildiroba base” by the Turkish gendarmerie in the Kilis province near the Syrian border.
In 2015, the Turkish air force shot down a Russian Su-24 aircraft in the Turkey-Syria border area, sparking an unprecedented crisis in the two countries’ relations.
Led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s National Security Council – which brings together the country’s civilian and military leaders – is due to meet on Monday.
The Syria issue is expected to figure high on the agenda.
The incident came just a day after Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem demanded the immediate withdrawal of all foreign forces from its territories.
“The United States and Turkey maintain an illegal military presence in northern Syria,” al-Muallem said in his address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Saturday.
“Any foreign forces operating in our territories without our authorisation are occupying forces and should withdraw immediately.”
Al-Muallem added that these countries were using “terrorism” as a “tool to impose their insidious agendas on the people and governments that reject their external dictates”.
Syria’s devastating eight-year civil war has drawn numerous foreign militaries and thousands of foreign fighters battling for power.
The war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since 2011, triggering an unprecedented refugee crisis.
Ankara has long been pressing for a safe zone between the Turkish border and Syrian areas east of the Euphrates river controlled by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
The two NATO allies, Turkey and the US, reached a deal last month to establish the planned scheme but Ankara is not satisfied with the current state of talks with Washington.
Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to launch a cross-border offensive against the YPG if the plans to realise a safe zone with Washington fail by the end of this month despite the joint ground and aerial patrols.
The US views the YPG as a close ally in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) group but Ankara says the YPG is a terrorist group linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a revolution inside Turkey since 1984.
Erdogan planned to meet with US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the UNGA in New York this week but a bilateral meeting did not take place.
The Turkish leader only attended a reception given by Trump for heads of state.