BEIRUT

Middle East

U.S. intelligence sheds new light on downed Turkish warplane

A Turkish Air Force F-4 war plane fires during a military exercise in Izmir, in this May 26, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/ Osman Orsal/Files

BEIRUT: U.S. intelligence indicates a Turkish warplane shot down by Syrian forces was most likely hit while in Syrian airspace, lending validation to Damascus' account and putting it at odds with Ankara's, the Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend.

According to AFP, Turkey's military reiterated Sunday that the jet fighter was in international airspace, and not inside Syria, as claimed in the newspaper report.

In its report Saturday, the Wall Street Journal said U.S. intelligence provided by American officials who spoke to the paper stated that the plane was likely taken down by shore-based antiaircraft guns.

Damascus said the plane was shot down by an antiaircraft battery with an effective range of about 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles).

The senior U.S. defense official who spoke to the American daily cautioned that much remains unknown about the incident, while a Turkish official said he was unaware of American doubts and maintained the Ankara’s position that a Syrian missile downed the plane in international airspace.

The downing of the warplane has increased tension in the region and led NATO to condemn the Syrian government's actions.

U.S. officials said antiaircraft fire would signify that the Turkish plane was flying low to the ground and slowly, though Syria said the jet was flying at around 770 kilometers an hour (480 miles an hour).

The plane's pilots are still missing and the U.S. officials said they believe the pilots perished.

According to the Wall Street Journal, some current and former U.S. officials have the belief that Turkey is testing Syria. The F-4 Phantom that was shot down by Syria typically carries surveillance equipment, though Turkey denies it was on a surveillance mission.

"You think that the airplane was there by mistake?" one former U.S. official said.

"These countries are all testing how fast they get picked up and how fast someone responds," a senior U.S. official told the paper.

"It’s part of training," the official added.

One U.S. military official said that the fact antiaircraft fire was used means a local commander on his own initiative decided to fire at the warplane as opposed to if the plane had been hit by a missile which would have indicated that Damascus had authorized the decision.

The Turkish army reiterated Sunday Anakar's earlier claims that one of its warplanes was brought down over international waters.

The Turkish F-4 Phantom "was downed over the eastern Mediterranean in international airspace ... while it was flying solo and unarmed, and testing our existing radars' performance in the region," the army's general staff said in a statement posted on its website, reported AFP.

The Turkish army statement said the jet had violated Syrian airspace for "about five minutes."

Ankara has said that the jet was too far from Syrian territory to have been shot at by an antiaircraft gun.

 

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