ANKARA/WASHINGTON, D.C. – Washington indefinitely suspended a crucial joint US-Turkish drone-based intelligence program with Turkey over the latter’s October ‘Operation Peace Spring’ invasion of northern Syria, according to four anonymous US officials speaking to Reuters.
The officials stated that the cancelation of the program was directly linked to Turkey’s Syria invasion, Sputnik reported. Under the program, the US flew drone-based intelligence-gathering missions targeting the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Turkey-based Kurdish militia group waging a guerilla campaign against Ankara.
The missions, which began in 2007, were flown out of Incirlik Air Base, with the gathered intelligence shared with Turkish authorities. The missions reportedly included the use of drones to snoop on territories in northern Iraq, administered by an autonomous Iraqi Kurdish government.
One official suggested that pulling the plug on the intelligence cooperation would make “the anti-PKK campaign more difficult and more costly for Turkey”. The State Department declined to comment on the story, with the Defence Department confirming that the US has supported Turkey against the PKK “in many ways for decades” while declining to comment on the details of “operational matters”.
An unnamed Turkish official confirmed that the program had been scrapped.
“In recent years, Turkey has not been struggling to obtain the information it needs through drones it produces itself. However, as an ally the steps taken on this issue do not contribute to ties between the two countries,” the official told Reuters.
Both Turkey and the United States consider the PKK to be a terrorist group. Ankara also classifies the YPG (People’s Protection Units), the Syrian Kurdish militia force which helped defeat Daesh (ISIL or ISIS) in eastern Syria between 2014-2017, as terrorists, and claims the group has links to the PKK. The US does not share this view and has even assisted the YPG to illegally smuggle oil out of the war-torn country.
Turkey launched its abortive invasion of northeastern Syria in October, after the US began redeploying troops away from the border to seize the oil-rich regions of the country. The Turkish operation was halted following diplomatic intervention from Moscow, which led to the pullout of YPG forces from the border area with Turkey.
This week, the Turkish government has threatened a new operation in another part of Syria, this time against Syrian government forces in the Idlib region, where tens of thousands of terrorists and hundreds of thousands of civilians are presently holed up. On Tuesday, the Syrian Army gave terrorists in Idlib one last chance to lay down their arms and warned that they would repel any Turkish aggression in the province.
Turkey has warned that its forces would respond if the Syrian Army failed to withdraw its troops behind the observation posts set up by the Turkish military to ensure a ceasefire between government forces and militants. Damascus has repeatedly rejected the uninvited presence of foreign troops on its soil and has promised to regain all of its territories under its internationally recognized borders, by force if necessary.