The US has scrapped a joint US-Turkish drone-based intelligence program, over Ankara’s Operation Peace Spring invasion of northern Syria in October 2019, according to four anonymous US officials.
The cancellation of the “crucial” program was reportedly entire based on Turkey’s operation against the US-backed Kurdish forces.
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 PKK is deemed a terrorist organization by both the US and Turkey.
The missions have been happening since 2007 and were flown out of Incirlik Air Base, with the gathered intelligence shared with Turkish authorities.
The missions reportedly included the use of drones to survey on territories in the autonomous Iraqi Kurdish area in northern Iraq.
The Pentagon provided no comment on the rumored operation, but said that the US had designated PKK as terrorists in 1997.
“We have supported Turkey in their fight against the PKK in many ways for decades. As a matter of policy, we do not provide details on operational matters,” the spokeswoman said.
The US State Department said the US provides no comment on intelligence matters.
Officials from the Turkish defense ministry did not respond to a request for comment, but an unnamed Turkish official confirmed the program was stopped.
The Turkish official said that this, however, strained the relations between Ankara and Washington further.
“In recent years, Turkey has not been struggling to obtain the information it needs through drones it produces itself,” the Turkish official said. “However, as an ally the steps taken on this issue do not contribute to ties between the two countries.”
The supposed cancellation of the alleged program puts a challenge before Turkey’s intelligence and military capabilities, when it is deployed on multiple fronts in Syria, as well as increasing the scope of its involvement in Libya.
“This makes the anti-PKK campaign more difficult and more costly for Turkey,” one of the four anonymous U.S. officials said.
Turkey has wide ambitions for both northern, as well as northeastern Turkey, where the Syrian Arab Army is mounting a very effective offensive against the Turkish-backed militants in Idlib. Turkey has threatened to initiate another operation, this time against the SAA in the area.
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 recognised borders, by force if necessary.
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