Screenshot from video purporting to show Turkish F-16s shooting down warplane.
(photo credit: screenshot)
While US President Barack Obama publicly expressed support for Ankara's right to defend its sovereignty after Turkey shot down a Russian plane it says strayed into its airspace on Tuesday, US officials reportedly believe Turkey needlessly escalated tensions.
CBS News on Tuesday quoted anonymous US officials as blaming Turkey for overreacting to a minor violation of its airspace.
Russia's defense ministry said one of its Su-24 fighter jets had been downed in Syria and that "for the entire duration of the flight, the aircraft was exclusively over Syrian territory," a suggestion Turkey denied.
"The data we have is very clear. There were two planes approaching our border, we warned them as they were getting too close," another senior Turkish official told Reuters. "Our findings show clearly that Turkish air space was violated multiple times. And they violated it knowingly."
The United States believes that the Russian jet shot down by Turkey on Tuesday was hit inside Syrian airspace
after a brief incursion into Turkish airspace, a US official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Video purporting to show Turkish F16s shooting down warplane
The official said that assessment was based on detection of the heat signature of the jet.
Obama and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan spoke by phone on Tuesday about the need to de-escalate tensions with Russia after Turkey shot down the Russian warplane near the Turkish-Syrian border, the White House said.
Obama expressed "US and NATO support for Turkey's right to defend its sovereignty," the White House said in a statement.
"The leaders agreed on the importance of de-escalating the situation and pursuing arrangements to ensure that such incidents do not happen again," the statement said.
Erdogan on Tuesday defended Turkey's right to protect its borders after the plane was shot down, an incident he said Turkey had made every effort to avoid.
"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 in a speech in Ankara, adding the actions were fully in line with Turkey's rules of engagement.
"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 said.
Erdogan hit out at Russia, arguing that their military campaign is targeting many groups opposed to Syrian president al-Assad, and not only Islamic State. "Daesh (Islamic State) terrorists are not present in the area where Syrian Turkmen are living. Nobody should try to lure people. Only Syrian Turkmen who are our relatives are living in that region. They are ostensibly striking against Daesh but they are hitting Syrian Turkmen and Syrian Turkmen are trying to defend their land."
Erdogan also said that Turkey, together with its allies, would soon realize a "humanitarian safe zone" between Syria's Jarablus and the Mediterranean coast.
Responding to the incident earlier on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the plane had been attacked when it was one km inside Syria and warned of "serious consequences" for what he termed a stab in the back administered by "the accomplices of terrorists".