President Recep Tayyip Erdogan defended Turkey’s defense of its airspace Tuesday evening after Ankara fighter jets shot down a Russian SU-24 warplane earlier in the day, with the Turkish leader claiming that the military was unable to identify the jet that was violating the country’s sovereignty.
“Despite being warned 10 times in five minutes because it was coming towards our border, it insisted on continuing its violation. This plane was downed in an intervention by our F-16s,” Erdogan said during a speech in the capital.
“The reason why worse incidents have not taken place in the past regarding Syria is the cool-headedness of Turkey. Nobody should doubt that we made our best efforts to avoid this latest incident. But everyone should respect the right of Turkey to defend its borders,” he added.
The Turkish President also called for a “humanitarian safe zone” in Syria as a means to tamp down the carnage in the region.
The Turkish military said on its website that a fighter jet of “unknown nationality” was warned 10 times over a five-minute span, before Turkish Fighter Jets finally decided to shoot down the unidentified aircraft.
“A warplane of unknown nationality that breached Turkish airspace over Hatay Yayladagi region at 09.20 [0720GMT] was alerted 10 times in five minutes,” read the statement, which added that the F-16 intervenes at 9:24 A.M. local time.
Turkish media has previously reported on Russian violations of Turkish airspace. Since Russia’s air campaign in Syria commenced in September, Turkey has routinely condemned their alleged infractions of Ankara’s sovereignty.
The U.S. has backed its NATO ally, with the Pentagon accusing Russia of “reckless,” “irresponsible,” “imprecise,” and “frankly uncaring” operations in the region.
The Pentagon also said Russia, which claims to be targeting the Islamic State terror group, has only devoted a “fraction of their attacks” to striking the jihadi outfit.
“So we are concerned when the Russians don’t do what they say they’re going to do right. The Russians have said that they’re here to fight terrorism, but the Russians have routinely now demonstrated that their goal is to, you know, prop up and prolong the Assad regime,” added Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren.
Meanwhile, Erdogan’s forces are also involved in a sustained campaign against Kurdish revolutionaries in the country’s southeast, targeting PKK militants with aerial bombardments.
Turkish authorities claim that they destroyed 13 PKK shelters this week alone, and have taken out several militants in the process.