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Turkish helicopter downed in northern Syria

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Turkish helicopter downed in northern Syria

Smoke rises from Syria's Afrin region, as seen from the Turkish border
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File photo - REUTERS/Osman Orsal
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A Turkish army helicopter has been shot down during an offensive against Kurdish militias in the northern Syrian region of Afrin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday.

Speaking to members of his AK Party (AKP) in Istanbul, Erdogan didn’t mention by name the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, but said that those responsible would pay.

"These things will happen, we are in a war," Erdogan said. "We might lose a helicopter, but they'll pay the price for this."

A spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias, said his fighters downed the chopper in Raju, northwest Afrin, and the SDF media released footage they said showed the downing.

The Turkish military, however, did not give a reason for why the helicopter fell. In a statement, it said two soldiers on board died and technical crews were investigating the crash.

It was the first officially confirmed loss of a Turkish aircraft over Syria since the start of its civil war seven years ago.

Ankara launched an air and ground offensive against Kurdish YPG militias in Afrin last month, opening a new front in the multi-sided Syrian war.

The Kurdish YPG, the strongest militia in the SDF, have gained ground in Syria since they joined forces with the US to fight Islamic State militants. Ankara now sees them as a growing security threat just south of its border.

It views the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a deadly insurgency in Turkey for three decades and is listed as a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union.