Turkey claims that the jet violated its airspace and Moscow says the plane was flying over Syrian territory.
Turkey has shot down a Russian fighter that the government said was violating its airspace.
The incident occurred in the midst of rising tensions across the Turkish border where constant warnings of the government in Ankara to Russian aircraft and the forces of the Syrian regime are issued so they stop attacks on Turkmen in the Bayirbucak region, held by the Syrian opposition.
Turkey is a strong ally of ISIS and is using proxy armies to help the terror organization fight the Syrian Army and to escape Russian air strikes. The same has been done by the United States, whose forces have warned ISIS of impending air attacks by Russia and US and European air strikes.
“At 9:20 on 24 November, an aircraft of unknown nationality supposedly violated Turkish airspace, while supposedly flying over the the town of Yayladagi in the province of Hatay”said the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces said in a statement:
“For this reason and according to the rules of engagement, two of our F-16s that were in the area fired at it.”
A rebel faction under the name al-Ashar Alwiya has released images of one of the dead pilots. The other would also be in their custody.
Government sources and the President of Turkey, cited by local media, have indicated that the aircraft was a SU-24 Russian-made and used by the Air Force of that country in the bombing campaign in support of the Syrian regime.
The Russian Defense Ministry was quoted by RIA news agency as confirming the downing of the plane, but has denied that the fighter violated Turkish airspace.
“This is a very serious matter, but without full information, it is impossible and it would be incorrect to say something,” said later Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri Peskov.
Although Turkey’s air defense is taken from Madrid, Spain through the Combined Air Operations Center of NATO, the downing of Russian aircraft was a unilateral operation of the Turkish army, as confirmed by Spanish media sources.
After the downing of the Russian plane, the Turkish government called for an emergency meeting and prepared a statement to inform their partners of NATO and the United Nations on the incident.
The Atlantic Alliance, which will have its own emergency meeting at the ambassadorial level, said that contacts with Ankara will follow the incident closely. It is the first time since the 1950s, during the Cold War, that a NATO country shoots down a Russian plane.
The Russian plane fell in flames, five kilometers inside Syrian territory while its two pilots parachuted out of it. Two Russian helicopters were deployed to try to find them. Early reports pointed to at least one of the pilots having fallen into the hands of Turkmen fighters.
Ten days ago, the Syrian regime, supported by Iranian militants on land and from the sea, and on the air by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, launched an offensive to take the Bayirbucak mountainous region, south of the Turkish province of Hatay and mostly inhabited by Turkmen linked to the Syrian opposition, though, as denounced by Damascus, been infiltrated by jihadist groups like the Al-Nusra Front.
“We face intense bombing, as we had not had in four years of war,” said Mahli Yusuf, the leader of the Turkmen National Movement (TNM) and the Syrian National Coalition, the two groups that currently oppose Bashar al-Assad.
Mahli, who found refuge in Turkey but maintains contact with Turkmen militants on the ground and says that it is “an unequal battle”:
“Ours have only light arms and face bombardment from land, sea and air.”
In recent days, forces loyal to the Syrian President managed to conquer several towns south of the disputed area and, on the morning of Tuesday, CNN-Turk reported that Turkmen have lost three new hills. The fighting is actually seen from the Turkish side of the border.
The advance of the Syrian army has caused a new wave of refugees -some 3,000 according to Mahli- who have been staying in tents in Turkey.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had warned during the weekend that the Turkish army “has been ordered to respond to any event that may threaten border security.”
“The priority in Syria must be the Islamic State and these groups are not ISIS, but moderate rebels.”
Our concern is that if Russia and the regime continue to attack the moderate opposition, it will be replaced by ISIS and thus it would weaken the anti-ISIS forces, reported a government source.
The Syrian regime and media outlets such as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, have pointed to the presence of militants of Al Nusra –Al Qaeda in Syria- among the Turkmen militants in Jeb al-Ahmar. Several photographs of these groups appear to show jihadist fighters dwelling with them.
However, Mahli denies this point: “There are groups linked to the Free Syrian Army, there may be some Islamist trend, but are not jihadists. In fact, the latest Al Nusra forces left the area 15 days ago, before the attack of the regime.”
Mahli accuses the regime in its offensive on Bayirbucak which he says aims to control more ground before a cease-fire is declared in line with the agreement at the Vienna talks.
The government in Ankara has traditionally been the protector of the Turkmen minority in Syria and Iraq, which also have the support of various ultranationalist organizations and Islamist groups in Turkey which in turn support the Syrian opposition.
This latest incident could damage the strategy designed in recent weeks with the US.
Today the arrival in Turkey of Vice President of Staff of the US, General Paul J. Selva is expected to address the plan to open a new front against ISIS in northern Syria using the “moderate rebels” and Wednesday morning, Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov will meet with his Turkish counterpart Feriddun Sinirlioglu.
Luis R. Miranda is an award-winning journalist and the founder and editor-in-chief at The Real Agenda. His career spans over 18 years and almost every form of news media. His articles include subjects such as environmentalism, Agenda 21, climate change, geopolitics, globalisation, health, vaccines, food safety, corporate control of governments, immigration and banking cartels, among others. Luis has worked as a news reporter, on-air personality for Live and Live-to-tape news programs. He has also worked as a script writer, producer and co-producer on broadcast news. Read more about Luis.