Report: Turkey shoots down Syrian helicopter in border clash

Three Turkish F-16 fighters were launched from bases in Diyarbakır province in the southeastern part of the country, in response to sporadic firefights along the border region, recent news reports state. 

Gunmen from the al Qaeda-linked group Jabhat al Nusra exchanged fire with Kurdish fighters from the Democratic Union Party, a militant separatist group based in Turkey, according to local news outlets

The fighters were conducting aerial surveillance missions over the town of Ras al-Ain on the Turkey-Syria border where the most intense fighting took place, reports state. 

Turkish forces amassed several armored units along the Syrian border, equipped with anti-aircraft guns and self-propelled rockets, last June in response to the shootdown of the Turkish F-4. 

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Washington has been providing military assistance to Istanbul to keep the ongoing civil war in Syria from spilling across the border into Turkey. 

Forces loyal to Syrian Presdent Bashar Assad have repeatedly been involved in small skirmishes along the Turkish border since the beginning of the civil war over two years ago. 

Last October, Ankara sought NATO authorization to begin strikes inside Syria, in retaliation for the cross-border attacks by Assad's forces inside Turkey. 

At the time, Ankara demanded the NATO sit-down after Syrian troops shelled targets in neighboring Turkey with Ankara responding with their own bombardment inside Syria, across the countries' shared border

The meeting was called under Article 4 of the alliance's charter, which requires consultations with all NATO members when a partner nation feels its "territorial integrity, political independence or security" is being threatened by an outside country. 

The fighter deployment comes as Washington and Russia are working a deal to force Assad to hand over his chemical weapon stockpiles. 

Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov agreed to a framework that will begin the handover of Assad's stockpiles to international control, led by the United Nations. 

The deal indefinitiely delays proposed U.S. military action against Syria, in response to alledged chemical weapons attacks by the regime aganist opposition forces.

The threat of force eventually led to the eleventh-hour disarmament deal by Moscow, President Obama said on Saturday. 

But concerns over whether the Assad regime will comply with disarmament continue to raise concerns  in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill. 

On Thursday, Defense Intelligence Agency chief, Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, said it could take as long as seven years to fully account for Syria's chemical weapons. 

"I do not have a [high] level of confidence to get through this first iteration" of getting the weapons accounted for, under the Russia plan, according to Flynn. 

Recent reports claim Syrian military units are already hiding portions of Assad's chemical weapons in anticipation of U.N. inspections. 

--This story was updated at 1:54pm









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