Turkish warplanes crossed into Russian and U.S.-controlled airspace for the first time to attack the PKK-linked YPG terrorists in Syria, and it has rallied Syrian allies to possibly expand the campaign, several Turkish and Syrian opposition sources told Reuters.
The F-16 jet raids happened in the last few days as Türkiye and the PKK/YPG escalated tit-for-tat strikes on both sides of the border, set off when Ankara said it was retaliating after a deadly Nov. 13 bombing in Istanbul.
While Türkiye has conducted several large operations into northern Syria in recent years, it had used drones for many air strikes given that Washington, which is allied with the PKK/YPG, and Damascus-ally Moscow control much of the airspace.
Türkiye’s reported use of Russian and U.S.-controlled airspace could indicate Ankara’s increasing clout with Moscow and Washington. NATO member Türkiye has conducted a diplomatic balancing act since Russia invaded Ukraine, criticizing the invasion but opposing Western sanctions on Russia.
A Turkish Defense Ministry source said jets were never used in Syrian, Russian or U.S. airspace for the latest airstrikes on YPG militant bases in Syria, and that jets hit all targets from within Turkish airspace.
Yet a senior Turkish security official and two senior Syrian opposition figures in touch with the Turkish military told Reuters that jets flew into Syrian territory controlled by the U.S.-backed YPG and that Ankara was in particular in touch with Russia about this.
“Turkish jets used the airspace under the control of the U.S. and Russia. Some coordination was made with these two countries,” the Turkish security official said.
“The Turks coordinated with the Russians and the Americans in the areas they have control over Syrian airspace,” said Col. Abduljabbar Akaidi, a senior Syrian opposition figure familiar with the latest developments.
Hande Fırat, a prominent Turkish journalist with close links to the government, separately wrote in the Hürriyet newspaper: “The U.S. and Russia, the two countries which control Syrian airspace, had to open the airspace” after the Istanbul attack.
Ankara said its weekend operation was retaliation for the bomb set off in a busy Istanbul area on Istiklal Street last week that killed six people, and which authorities blamed on the PKK/YPG.
Turkish artillery kept up bombardment of PKK/YPG bases and other targets in Syria on Tuesday, while Defense Minister Hulusi Akar called on the U.S. to halt support for the YPG.
The U.S. allied with the YPG in the fight against the Daesh terrorist group in Syria’s 11-year war, causing a deep rift with Türkiye, which says the YPG is the Syrian offshoot of the PKK. Türkiye, the U.S. and others deem the PKK a terrorist group.
Washington has warned against military action that would destabilize Syria while Moscow has urged Ankara and other parties to show restraint.
But the commander of a Turkish-backed opposition faction and two Turkish sources said fighters from a coalition of armed Syrian opposition groups known as the Syrian National Army (SNA), allied with Ankara, have been asked to prepare for a potentially expanded operation.
“The Turks notified all the commanders who are on leave to return to their posts and those in Syria not to leave and also to raise their level of preparedness,” the senior commander said under condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to publicly speak on this matter. “They have not been assigned tasks nor is there a plan yet,” he added.
The Turkish security source and a separate senior Turkish official said Syrian forces have been readied, though no timetable had been set and no final decision has been made.
In May, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed to launch an operation into Syria, raising preparations among Syrian forces, though no operation was launched. Erdoğan said on Monday that the current air campaign could expand to a ground offensive.