The US has said it condemns “leaks of any kind,” referring to a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report over the weekend that cited Pentagon officials who backed Syrian claims over a downed Turkish jet.
“You know how strongly we support our Turkish ally, and we condemn leaks of any kind,” US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a press briefing on Monday when asked about the report, which cited US officials and claimed that the Turkish jet shot down by Syrian forces on June 22 was downed in Syrian airspace and not in international airspace, as the Turkish government maintains.
Turkey strongly denied the WSJ report in a statement released by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) on Sunday. Turkey maintains the warplane was hit in international airspace by Syria without warning in a “hostile act.” Moreover, Turkey believes the plane was hit with a laser-guided or heat-guided missile, both of which would have been capable of hitting the plane while it was in international airspace.
However, Syria says Syrian air defense had to react immediately to a Turkish jet flying low at 100 meters (330 feet) of altitude inside Syrian airspace in what was “a clear breach of Syrian sovereignty.” Syria also says the plane was downed by anti-aircraft fire, rather than by a missile.
The TSK said its investigation concluded that the military lost communication with its warplane when it was in international airspace.
Pentagon says there are ‘uncertainties’
Asked to comment on the WSJ report, Defense Department spokesman John Kirby avoided openly denying it, saying that there are still many uncertainties regarding the jet incident, but emphasized that the sole authority who can make a statement on the issue is Turkey.
Kirby also played down concerns over a military confrontation, saying a recent Turkish military build-up along the Syrian border was not a “provocative” act and emphasizing that it is up to the Turkish government to decide how it wants to move its troops. Similarly, there is no sign that Syria is trying to escalate tensions along the border, Kirby said.
Responding to questions on the WSJ report, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen reiterated NATO support of Turkey, saying that the alliance received “concrete information about the incident” from the Turkish side, implying that they still took the Turkish version to be the accurate one. Speaking during a press conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Monday, Rasmussen went on to say that it was unacceptable and in contradiction with all international norms to shoot down an aircraft without any warning.
Rasmussen also advised reporters not to trust information based on anonymous sources in a reference to the Wall Street Journal’s (WSJ) claims that the Turkish jet downed by Syrian forces was in Syrian territorial waters. My answer is very brief. The main lesson you can learn is you should not rely on anonymous sources,” said the Secretary General.
The report by the WSJ is not the first time the paper has cast doubts on an official Turkish account. Two months ago the paper ran a report on the Uludere case, saying the intelligence that led to the killing of 34 civilians in Uludere last year was in fact provided by US officials to the Turkish side, an idea that has been dismissed by the Turkish military.
On Dec. 28, 2011, Turkish fighter jets bombed smugglers they believed to be Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists in the Turkish-Iraqi border area near Uludere, sparking outrage in Turkey.