The U.S. military had no involvement in an incident that caused two Turkish F-16s to shoot down a Russian Su-24 fighter jet near the Turkish-Syrian border, the spokesman for the U.S. military in Baghdad said Tuesday.
“This is an incident between the Russian and the Turkish governments. It is not an incident that involves the combined joint task force or Operation Inherent Resolve,” Army Col. Steve Warren told reporters. “There were no [U.S.] F-15s in the area, no American personnel in the area, no American equipment in the area.”
U.S. combat operations against the Islamic State will continue as planned, he added.
Russian officials have maintained that its planes were operating in Syria, conducting airstrikes on the Islamic State. Turkish officials have said the Su-24s invaded their airspace and did not respond to multiple warnings.
Although the United States could track the Russian and Turkish interaction via radar and other surveillance capabilities, Warren could not yet verify whether Russia had actually invaded Turkey’s airspace.
“We’re still gathering all of the facts and looking at all of the details. In some of these more remote regions in a mountainous area and at 30,000 feet or whatever the altitude is, it’s often difficult to know exactly where a border is,” he said.
However, Warren supported Turkey’s claims that that Russian pilots did not respond to 10 warnings from the F-16s urging them to cross back into Syria.
The clash has left American officials, including President Barack Obama, trying to walk a tightrope between support of Turkey–a fellow NATO member–and trying to deescalate tensions between the two countries.
Turkey has the right to defend its airspace, and Russia has had an ongoing problem with moving too close to the Turkish border, Obama said Tuesday during a press conference. The president added that he welcomes Russian participation in the fight against the Islamic State, but Moscow’s support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continues to be troubling.
Later on Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook confirmed that U.S. officials have been in contact with their Turkish counterparts.
Russian flights—particularly along the Syrian-Turkish border, which is not controlled by the Islamic State—carry risk, Cook said.
There have been two previous instances of Russian “incursions” in Turkish airspace, and Turkey had voiced concerns to NATO and coalition partners, he said, adding that he was unaware of any U.S. engagement with Russian aircraft since the countries signed a memorandum of understanding that laid out safety protocols meant to minimize the risk of an incident between the countries’ air forces.