Was Iran involved in a attack that killed Turkish soldiers in northern Syria?

by omouggos

Turkish forces in northern Syria.

Turkish forces in northern Syria.

Two weeks ago a purported airstrike killed three Turkish soldiers in Syria, north of al-Bab.1 Coincidentally, the date of the incident, November 24, was the 1 year anniversary of the downing of a Russian Su-24 bomber by Turkish fighter jets. Based on the timing and details of the incident, it seems unlikely to be a mistake. Whoever did it knew who they were targeting. What remains to be determined though, is who was the perpetrator of the attack.

Accounting for the recent rapprochement with Turkey, it seems highly unlikely that Russian bombers would have knowingly attacked Turkish troops in northern Syria. Russian officials, such as President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov reassured their Turkish counterparts that no Russian aircraft were involved in the incident, and according to Lavrov neither were any Syrian aircraft involved as well.2

Upon heard Lavrov statements, it seemed reasonable to accept his denial of Russian involvement, but I was rather incredulous towards his denial of Syrian involvement in the attack. After all someone bombed the Turkish troops, and if it was not the Russians then the only other major hostile air force operating in the region is Assad’s. Furthermore significant tensions exist between Syria and Turkey, particularly since the latter launched operation Euphrates Shield in August. This tension has been best illustrated by Erdoğan’s comments on November 29 that the reason for Turkey’s military intervention in northern Syria was “to end the rule of the tyrant al-Assad who terrorizes with state terror. [We didn’t enter Syria] for any other reason.3

Although Erdoğan’s comments came after the incident, he was only confirming what many already knew, including Bashar al-Assad himself. So it seems reasonable that Assad would want to military goad Erdoğan if possible, and what better way to do so than to launch a discrete airstrike against Turkish forces in northern Syria. It is also possible that Assad was not please with his ally Russia improving relations with his enemy Turkey, and as such ordered the airstrike with the intention of increasing tensions between Russia and Turkey.

Yet, if Lavrov is being honest, and neither Russia nor Syria were involved then who else could have perpetrated the attack on the Turkish troops? Well, there now appears to be another viable culprit, Iran. According to DEBKAfile, based on reports in the Turkish media, an Iranian-made unmanned aerial vehicle participated in the attack.4 Interestingly enough two days after the incident Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu made a surprise visit to Tehran. One wonders what was the purpose of the visit.

This report leads to more questions than answers. Since the drone was “Iranian made” does that mean it was operated outside the command and knowledge of Iranian forces, possibly by the Syrian regime or maybe some rogue Shiite militia? Or were Iranians actively involved, possibly from the Quds Forces? Did the drone act in a reconnaissance and targeting capacity, or did it actually fire upon the Turkish troops? Thus far these questions remain unanswered. All we now know is that there is some indication that Iran was involved in the incident in some capacity. Hopefully more information will emerge so we can get to the bottom of this mystery.

O Mouggos


[1] http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/three-turkish-soldiers-killed-in-suspected-syrian-government-air-strike.aspx?pageID=238&nID=106496&NewsCatID=352

[2] http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/russian-aircraft-not-behind-attack-on-turkish-soldiers-govt-spokesperson.aspx?pageID=238&nID=106672&NewsCatID=338 , http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/neither-syria-nor-russia-attacked-on-turkish-soldiers-lavrov-.aspx?pageID=238&nID=106778&NewsCatID=352

[3] http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-entered-syria-to-end-al-assads-rule-president-erdogan.aspx?pageID=238&nID=106709&NewsCatID=352

[4] http://www.debka.com/newsupdatepopup/19159/Iranian-UAV-attacked-Turkish-troops-in-Syria-senior-source-in-Ankara-says