Turkey reports another air confrontation on its Syria border

A Russian SU-25 ground attack aircraft takes off from an airbase in Syria. The photo is from the website of the Russian Defense Ministry.
A Russian SU-25 ground attack aircraft takes off from an airbase in Syria. The photo is from the website of the Russian Defense Ministry. AP

Even as NATO called an emergency meeting Monday to denounce Russia’s repeated violations of Turkish airspace, another incident was unfolding, with Russian or Syrian forces threatening Turkish F-16 fighter jets as they conducted a routine patrol along the Syrian border, the Turkish army said Tuesday.

In a statement, the Turkish general staff said a MiG-29 jet fighter locked its radar on a group of eight F-16s Monday for more than four minutes at the same time that Syrian air defense missiles also locked their radar on the Turkish warplanes.

The terse bulletin did not identify the country operating the MiG-29. The aircraft is Russian-made, but Russia is not known to have them in Syria. The Syrian air force, however, does operate the planes.

It was the third such incident in as many days. On Monday, NATO said that Russian planes on bombing runs in Syria had crossed into Turkish airspace on both Saturday and Sunday. NATO labeled the incursions “reckless behavior” that caused “extreme danger.”

Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary-general, on Tuesday called the Russian intrusion “a serious violation of Turkish airspace” and said “it should not happen again.”

But neither the United States nor NATO commented on Turkey’s report of the latest incident. Asked for comment, NATO’s media office referred all questions to the Turkish government.

An attack on Turkey means an attack on NATO.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest referenced Stoltenberg’s remarks. “We share those significant concerns, and the United States has been consulting with our NATO allies about them,” he said.

“The kind of activity described by the NATO secretary-general is not consistent with the kind of constructive contribution that we’d like to see Russia make to the broader international counter-ISIL effort,” he said, referring to the Islamic State by one of its alternative names.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also used measured language. “It is of course not possible to remain patient about this,” he told reporters in Belgium, where he concluded a state visit. “If Russia loses a friend like Turkey with whom it has a lot of cooperation, it is going to lose a lot of things. It needs to know this,” he said.

But he also warned: “An attack on Turkey means an attack on NATO.”

The complexity of the Syrian battlefield was also on display Tuesday.

Russian airstrikes again targeted rebel forces in the country’s west, striking parts of Aleppo and the Aleppo countryside. One group, Liwaa Suqour al Jabal, the Mountain Eagle’s Brigade, which receives U.S. support, said Russian jets targeted their bases in Aleppo at the same time that the Islamic State targeted another of their bases north of the city. The group said its facilities were damaged but that no lives were lost.

Another U.S.-supported group, the Nouriddin Zinki Front, said it came under attack from the Nusra Front, al Qaida’s branch in Syria. U.S.-supported rebels have complained over the past year that U.S. bombing of Nusra struck at one of their anti-Assad allies.

McClatchy special correspondents Duygu Guvenc in Ankara and Zakaria Zakaria in Istanbul contributed.

Roy Gutman: @roygutmanmcc