Turkey has withdrawn 40 of its troops from a NATO military drill in Norway after scandals regarding the country’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The image of Atatürk was displayed as a target during the drill at NATO’s Joint Warfare Center in Stavanger, Norway held between Nov. 8 and Nov. 17, while a NATO soldier posted defamatory words about Erdoğan on the social media. NATO announced on Nov. 17 that one technician and a military officer had been sacked.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg apologized to Turkey over the incident.
“I have been informed about offence caused in a recently concluded exercise at NATO’s Joint Warfare Centre in Stavanger, Norway. I apologise for the offense that has been caused. The incidents were the result of an individual’s actions and do not reflect the views of NATO,” Stoltenberg said in a statement.
“The individual in question was immediately removed from the exercise by the Joint Warfare Centre and an investigation is underway. He was a civilian contractor seconded by Norway and not a NATO employee. It will be for the Norwegian authorities to decide on any disciplinary action. NATO has been in contact with the Norwegian authorities on this issue,” he added.
The NATO chief stressed that Turkey is a “valued NATO Ally, which makes important contributions to Allied security.”
The Turkish Embassy was planning to demarche on Nov. 17 and demand an explanation for the incident in NATO, a diplomatic source has told the Hürriyet Daily News.
Ankara has been informed by NATO officials that Secretary General Stoltenberg will convey an apology directly to Turkish Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar at the ongoing International Security Forum in Canada.
A NATO official told the Hürriyet Daily News that the Norwegian commander of the Allied Joint Force Command (JFC) separately issued an apology for the action, which was carried out by a civilian contractor seconded by Norway at a closed social media communication channel using a nickname “RTErdogan.”
Previously, NATO’s Allied Command had issued an apology to the Turkish General Staff over the scandal, in addition to the Joint Warfare Center’s letter of apology over the incident at the drill.
Separately, private broadcaster NTV detailed two incidents in its Nov. 17 report, stating that a technician had used an image of Atatürk he found on the Internet to represent the enemy ranks during a drill. He was sacked after the Turkish officers at NATO spotted the image, the report said.
The second incident, meanwhile, occurred when a Kurdish-origin Norwegian officer signed up to a social networking website within NATO, using a fake account in the name of President Erdoğan and sharing posts against the organization. The posts were revealed by Turkish military officers stationed at the NATO naval forces and he was also sacked, the report said.
Earlier in the day, President Erdoğan slammed the incident during the NATO drill.
“There was an incident in Norway. They put up something like an ‘enemies table’ and it included [Mustafa Kemal] Atatürk’s name and my name,” Erdoğan said on Nov. 17, speaking at a ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) meeting in Ankara.
“When we heard of this, our chief of general staff and EU minister were on their way to Canada. It was a NATO drill, we had 40 soldiers there. We decided to withdraw those troops and they started the necessary process. We said: ‘Withdraw the troops even if those names are taken out.’ Such things have happened from time to time in different places. Unfortunately, we have such people among us too,” he added.
Turkey has the second-largest army in the alliance and borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran.
The Joint Warfare Centre is a multinational NATO unit based in Stavanger, 300 kilometers (186 miles) southwest of Oslo. It is currently led by Maj. Gen. Andrzej Reudowicz of Poland. According to its website, it has a staff of 250 made up of civilians from 11 NATO member states, including Turkey.
In March, the Norwegian government angered Ankara by granting political asylum to five Turkish officers based in Norway who had refused to return home after the failed July 2016 coup attempt.