Updated February 11
Kurd-led forces said their fighters shot down one of a pair of Turkish T129 ATAK helicopters operating in the Rajo district of Efrin in Syria.
Video posted on social media shows an ATAK flying past the camera as another helicopter appears to descend, followed by a plume of smoke from the approximate location of the apparent crash.
URGENT: People's protection units drop a Turkish plane in the Rajo area of Afrin.
عاجل: وحدات حماية الشعب تسقط طائرة تركية بمنطقة راجو بعفرين. pic.twitter.com/cYvb61zX6B
— pyd rojava (@PYD_Rojava) February 10, 2018
The video does not show the helicopter being struck by gunfire or a missile.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed the downing of the aircraft, saying that it came down in Turkey’s southeastern Hatay province that borders Efrin, Hurriyet Daily News reported.
Erdogan said the helicopter was engaged in Operation Olive Branch, the Turkey and Free Syrian Army military intervention in the Efrin region of Syria. Erdogan said losses were to be expected in war, but warned that the perpetrators “will pay a heavy price.”
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim later confirmed that two soldiers were killed in the incident in the Efrin region, adding that investigations were ongoing and that it was uncertain whether the crash was due to the aircraft being hit.
Confirming the incident, the Turkish Armed Forces only said the helicopter had crashed.
— Samir (@obretix) February 11, 2018
Turkey has long held that the YPG in the Efrin area have man-portable air-defense missile systems (MANPADS).
The Turkish Armed Forces said on February 2 they had captured a Russian SA-18 MANPADS in Efrin on January 30-31, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported. Turkey-backed FSA units had earler published images of the weapon.
Turkey’s air campaign resumes
Turkey resumed its air campaign in Efrin on Friday after a five-day pause. Turkish aircraft had not flown over Efrin since February 3, when a Russian Sukhoi Su-25 ground attack aircraft was shot down in rebel- and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham-held Idlib province. The Russian Ministry of Defence said that after reviewing preliminary information, the aircraft appeared to have been shot down using a MANPADS.
Russia has also requested that Turkey assist in obtaining all the wreckage from the crash in order to ascertain what missile was used and who supplied it.
Turkey has long supported Free Syrian Army groups fighting in Idlib, and some of those groups are also involved in Operation Olive Branch.
On February 6, Reuters reported that the Syrian army had deployed air defenses to front lines in the Idlib and Aleppo areas – Efrin is in Aleppo province. “They cover the air space of the Syrian north,” Reuters quoted a “commander in the military alliance fighting in support of President Bashar al-Assad” as saying, without specifying who the commander was, nor which armed group or nation he was affiliated with.
Although these reports have not been confirmed, moving Syrian air defenses to protect Efrin has long been discussed. On January 18, two days before Olive Branch began, the Syrian government threatened to shoot down Turkish planes in its airspace, and on January 25, the local administration in Efrin called on the Syrian government to protect its borders from Turkish attacks launched against the Kurdish enclave.
Reporting in Al-Monitor, Amberin Zaman quoted an unnamed western diplomat as saying that the Syrian government was “very unhappy” with Russia for allowing Turkey to launch Operation Olive Branch. “Russia will rein in [Turkish intervention]. The question is when and at what price,” the official said.
TAI T129 ATAK attack helicopter
The Turkish Aerospace Industries T129 ATAK attack helicopter is an upgraded AgustaWestland A129 Mangusta. It is a twin-engine, two-seat, multi-role, all-weather attack helicopter designed for attack and reconnaissance in hot and high environments both day and night. Turkish companies Aselsan, Roketsan and Havelsan developed weapons and subsystems for the aircraft.
The Turkish Army reportedly had 27 in service, out of a total order of 59.
Turkey is keen to sell the aircraft internationally. On November 25, Pakistan’s Minister for Defense said that the country intends to procure 30 T129 ATAKs.