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Turkey Downs Russian Jet Near Syrian Border

Michael Johnson

A Turkish F-16 fighter jet shot down a Russian Su-24 with an air-to-air missiles on Tuesday near the Syrian border with Turkey. Turkish officials claimed the plane had violated the country’s airspace, but the Russian government has disputed the claim, strongly condemning Syria’s northern neighbor.

Ankara released a statement saying the the an unidentified aircraft flew over the town of Yaylidag, in southeastern Hatay Province, a small part of Turkish territory protruding into into Syria. Turkey contends it’s actions were “in line with the military rules of engagement” and that the “plane was warned 10 times in the space of five minutes before it was shot down.” Officials also released a map tracking the flight path of the Russian jet over Turkey.

The Russian jet in flames after being hit by an air-to-air missile. (Photo: EPA)

Both pilots in the Russian plane ejected before their fighter jet hit the ground. However, local rebels in the area shot and killed both men, according to reports from a Turkmen militia in the area, which posted a video online of one of the airman’s body. Meanwhile, there are also unconfirmed reports of a Russian helicopter dispatched to rescue the pilots also being shot down with a TOW anti-tank missile, commonly supplied by the U.S.

Russian leaders have reacted angrily to Turkey’s actions, but have also appeared somewhat uncoordinated in their public response. President Vladimir Putin described the incident as, “a stab in the back delivered by accomplices of the terrorists,” with Foreign Ministry Sergey Lavrov saying he will cancel a visit to Istanbul scheduled for next week. The Russian government also issued a statement advising its citizens not to holiday in Turkey, but claimed it was due to unnamed terrorist threats.

When asked about the situation at a press conference in Washington, President Obama said that Turkey has a right to defend its territory. He admitted that he did not have all the facts about the shoot down, but urge de-escalation on both sides. Ultimately, the President lamented that such confrontation highlighted the need for a political solution to the conflict.

At the request of Turkish officials, Western officials are expected to hold a NATO meeting to discuss the recent developments. The defense alliance warned Russia last month that its operations violated Turkish airspace after multiple overflights of the same area. But as long Russia strikes non-ISIS rebels fighting the Asad regime, tension will likely continue.