The Commander-in-Chief of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the United States main proxy in Syria, was targeted by a drone strike in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region on April 7, according to multiple sources.
The strike hit the convoy of the senior commander, Ferhat Abdi Şahin, near the airport of Sulaymaniyah. The city is the main stronghold of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), who maintains close relations with the SDF. A fire caused by the strike was quickly extinguished.
Three U.S. service members were in the convoy with the Kurdish-Syrian commander at the time of the drone strike, according to The Wall Street Journal. The New York-based newspaper reported that Western officials believe that the strike was carried out by Turkey.
U.S. Central Command spokesman Colonel Joe Buccino confirmed to Al-Monitor later that the strike didn’t cause any casualties.
Despite several official confirmations, SDF spokesman Farhad Shami inisted via Twitter that the reports concerning an attack on Şahin were “fake news” that was “intended as political blackmail against some forces in Southern [Iraqi] Kurdistan.” Later, the group’s Commander-in-Chief condemned the strike.
“We strongly condemn the targeting of Sulaymaniyah Airport by Turkey. These violations continue in Iraq and Syria and have serious consequences against the region. The position of the PUK in support of its brothers in Syria is disturbing Turkey. We will continue our principled relations with our brothers and allies in Sulaymaniyah, and we are united against these violations,” Şahin wrote on Twitter.
The Iraqi government also condemned the drone strike, holding Turkey responsible and demanding an apology from Ankara.
Turkey carried out dozens of drone strikes against fighters and commanders of the SDF and its affiliates in northeastern Syria and northern Iraq over the last few years. Ankara views the group as the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
Şahin, who is more known by his nom de guerre Mazloum Abdi, is on Turkey’s most wanted list of terrorists and has survived several assassination attempts in the past.
The drone strike on Şahin convoy came less than a month after the commander of the SDF’s Anti-Terror Unit, known as the YAT, was killed along with eight of the unit’s fighters when two helicopters crashed for unknown reasons near the city of Sulaymaniyah. The commander Sherfan Kobani was the cousin of Şahin.
Turkey has not yet commented on the drone strike. Ankara involvement in the apparent assassination attempt could lead to tensions with Washington, who highly regard Şahin and the SDF.