ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish jets shot down an unidentified drone that flew into Turkey's airspace at the border with Syria on Friday while Syrian troops under Russian air cover were pressing their offensive against rebels in central and northern Syria. A U.S. official said the drone was Russian, but Moscow strongly denied ownership.
The drone was shot down after it ignored three warnings to leave, the Turkish military said, but didn't specify how it had relayed the warnings to the operators of the drone. It said it was not immediately clear which country the aircraft belonged to.
Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu said the drone crashed about two miles inside Turkish territory. "We have not been able to establish who the drone belongs to, but we are able to work on it because it fell inside Turkish territory," he said.
Turkey earlier this month had complained about two incursions by Russian warplanes, which also drew strong condemnation from Turkey's NATO allies.
The United States, Russia and the Syrian government all operate drones in the region.
According to a U.S. defense official, the drone was not American, and the U.S. believes it was Russian. The official was not authorized to discuss details of the incident and so spoke on condition of anonymity.
In Moscow, a senior military officer strongly denied that the drone was Russian.
"I state with absolute responsibility that all our drones are either performing tasks or staying at the base," Col.-Gen. Andrei Kartapolov of the Russian military's General Staff said at a meeting with foreign military attaches in Moscow.
The Lebanon-based pro-Syrian Al-Mayadeen TV quoted an unnamed Syrian military official as saying that no Syrian or Russian warplane or drone was shot down over Turkey. The official added that Syrian or Russian warplanes or drones did not violate Turkey's airspace.
There was no immediate comment on the drone by the U.S. Embassy in Ankara.
Seeking to soothe Turkey's anger about the violation of its airspace by Russian aircraft, Moscow sent a high-level military delegation to discuss moves to prevent such incidents in the future.
"They apologized a few times, said it happened by accident and that they have taken measures so that it will not occur again," Sinirlioglu said of Thursday's talks in Ankara with the visiting Russian military delegation.
Since 2013, Turkey has shot down a Syrian military jet, a helicopter and an unmanned surveillance drone that strayed into Turkish airspace. The incidents occurred after Ankara changed its rules of engagement following the downing of a Turkish fighter jet by Syria.
Turkey has also reported numerous incidents of harassment of its F-16 jets patrolling the Syrian border, by Syrian fighter planes or Syria-based surface-to-air missile systems locking radar on them.
Syrian troops backed by Iranian and Hezbollah fighters on the ground and Russian planes in the air pressed ahead with an assault against rebels in central Syria and launched another offensive in the northern province of Aleppo on Friday, extending an ambitious campaign to recapture lost territory from armed fighters, activists and the government said.
The offensives on multiple fronts appear to be aimed at stretching rebel lines and keeping the insurgents off balance.
Russia began its air campaign Sept. 30, and Syrian troops and allied militiamen launched a ground offensive in central Syria week later. They have so far met stiff resistance from rebels using U.S.-made TOW anti-tank missiles that have impeded any swift breakthroughs, although they have seized a few villages from rebels in the past week.
The fighting is particularly intense in the central Homs province, where the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said around 60 people were killed in Russian airstrikes and fighting in Homs province. The Local Coordination Committees, an activist network that follows the war, put the number at 57.
The Russian military has rejected claims of civilian casualties, saying its planes haven't targeted populated areas.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told a meeting of leaders of ex-Soviet nations in Kazakhstan that his military has achieved "impressive" results with the air raids in Syria. "Dozens of control facilities and ammunition depots, hundreds of terrorists, and a large number of weapons have been destroyed," he said.
Putin reaffirmed that the Russian bombing blitz against the Islamic State group and other radicals in Syria will continue "for the period of the Syrian troops' offensive operations against terrorists," but wouldn't elaborate.
He said between 5,000 and 7,000 people from Russia and other ex-Soviet nations are fighting alongside Islamic State militants. "We can't allow them to use the experience they have just gained in Syria back home," he said.
Russian jets have flown 669 sorties since the start of the air campaign, including 394 this week, said Kartapolov, the Russian general.
In a bid to dispel claims by the U.S. and its allies that Russia's air campaign focused on moderate rebel groups instead of its declared focus on IS, Kartapolov said the Russian Defense Ministry would send a detailed map showing positions of IS and Syria's al-Qaida affiliate targeted by the Russian aircraft.
Kartapolov also criticized the U.S.-led coalition for striking a power plant near Aleppo, leaving it without electricity and paralyzing its water supply and sewage system, something that he said could only increase the flow of refugees into Europe.
In a separate interview with the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, Kartapolov shrugged off the U.S. claim that four of the 26 cruise missiles launched at targets in Syria by Russian navy ships from the southern part of the Caspian Sea had crashed on Iranian territory.
"The Pentagon may say whatever it wants," he told the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda. "All our missiles reached their targets."
Kartapolov said the Russian jets haven't yet faced any surface-to-air missiles and warned that their use by rebels would signal a foreign involvement.
Following a similar statement by Putin, Kartapolov firmly ruled out Russian military involvement in any ground action in Syria. He said Russian air and land assets in Syria will be pulled together with its Soviet-era Tartus navy facility in one base.
Also on Friday, a U.S.-supported Kurdish group in Syria known as the YPG strongly rejected accusations by Amnesty International that it forcefully displaced thousands of Syrian civilians, mostly Arabs, and demolished villages in northern Syria.
Zeina Karam in Beirut and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.