Russian troops in Syria mistakenly carried out an air strike on the Turkish military. As a result, three Turkish soldiers were killed and 11 injured, according to the Turkish General Staff. The incident took place on Thursday, February 9, near the town of Al-Bab, where active hostilities are taking place. Both sides have started internal investigations in connection with the case.
The Russian General Staff has issued a statement of condolence in connection "with the death of three Turkish soldiers operating in the area of al-Bab as a result of an unintended attack by Russian aircraft." The report says that the Russian bombers intended to attack the position of Islamic State militants in the area of al-Bab.
The same day, a telephone conversation took place between the Russian and Turkish presidents, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Kremlin press release contains only one mention of the incident without specifying Russia’s role in it. It reads, "Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences over the tragic incident which resulted in the deaths of several Turkish soldiers near the town of al-Bab."
According to Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, the incident occurred due to the "a position coordination error during the Russian Aerospace Forces’ air strikes on terrorists during a joint operation to liberate al-Bab." In this regard, Russia and Turkey will urgently improve their coordination mechanisms in Syria.
Relations between Russia and Turkey began to improve only in the second half of 2016 after a long conflict over a downed Su-24 Russian fighter, which took part in a military operation in Syria, before being shot down by the Turkish military in November 2015. Ankara stated that the plane had violated Turkish airspace. After anti-Turkish sanctions and numerous accusations from the Kremlin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan apologized to the relatives of the deceased Russian pilot in a letter to Putin in June 2016.