US scrapped secret drone intel program with Ankara over Turkey’s Syria invasion

Washington indefinitely suspended a crucial joint US-Turkish drone-based intelligence program with Turkey over the latter’s October ‘Operation Peace Spring’ invasion of northern Syria, according to four anonymous US officials speaking to Reuters.

The officials said the cancelation of the program was directly linked to Turkey’s Syria invasion.

Under the program, the US flew drone-based intelligence-gathering missions targeting the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Turkey-based Kurdish militia group waging a guerilla campaign against Ankara. The missions, which began in 2007, were flown out of Incirlik Air Base, with the gathered intelligence shared with Turkish authorities. The missions reportedly included the use of drones to snoop on territories in northern Iraq, administered by an autonomous Iraqi Kurdish government.

One official suggested that pulling the plug on the intelligence cooperation would make “the anti-PKK campaign more difficult and more costly for Turkey.”

An unnamed Turkish official confirmed that the program had been scrapped. “In recent years, Turkey has not been struggling to obtain the information it needs through drones it produces itself. However, as an ally the steps taken on this issue do not contribute to ties between the two countries,” the official told Reuters.

Both Turkey and the United States consider the PKK to be a terrorist group. Ankara also classifies the YPG, the Syrian Kurdish militia force which helped defeat Daesh (ISIS)* in eastern Syria between 2014-2017, as terrorists, and claims the group has links to the PKK. The US does not share this view, and has provided the YPG with military and other assistance, and helped the militia to illegally smuggle oil out of the war-torn country.