NATO’s secretary general has apologised to Turkey after a civilian contractor depicted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as an “enemy collaborator” during a military exercise in Norway.
Erdogan announced on Friday that his country has withdrawn from the Trident Javelin war games, as he protested at another incident in which modern Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was shown as “hostile”.
In a statement issued on Friday, NATO’s Jens Stoltenberg said: “I apologise for the offence that has been caused. The incidents were the result of an individual’s actions and do not reflect the views of NATO”.
The Norwegian official has been removed from the exercise, and an inquiry has been ordered to determine how the mistake happened.
“It will be for the Norwegian authorities to decide on any disciplinary action,” he said.
According to reports, the Norwegian official reportedly created a dummy military chat account and named it “Erdogan”, and called “Erdogan” a collaborator.
In the second incident, a staffer reportedly used the photo of Ataturk, in the “Hostile Leaders Biographies” section of the simulated military event.
The two incidents drew the ire of Erdogan, who immediately ordered the withdrawal of Turkey’s 40 soldiers from the exercise.
The commander of the Joint Warfare Centre, Major General Andrzej Reudowicz of Poland, also apologised to the Turkish government, the report quoted a NATO official as saying.
Tensions between Turkey and its European allies have been brewing for months over the refugee crisis, as well as calls within the bloc to freeze relations.
The latest incident only serves as another irritant to their ties.
Turkey and European countries have been cooperating on issues such as the refugee crisis, security and Syria’s war – a situation that appears to have made some member states hesitant to cut ties.
As part of a 2015 deal, Turkey received European Union funds in exchange for the return of refugees to Turkey, but Europeans say questions remain over the efficacy of the agreement’s implementation in light of the rising tensions.
Erdogan, accusing Brussels of not keeping its side of the deal about visa-free travel for Turks, has at various times threatened to open his country’s border with the EU for refugees to pass freely.
The EU member states and Turkey also share intelligence and are allies in the coalition fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL, also known as ISIS).
But in recent months, Erdogan has sharply rebuffed the bloc, stating publicly that his country “does not need the EU” any more.
The Turkish government also accuses several EU member states of actively supporting “terrorism”.
Turkey has alleged that EU states are harbouring Kurdish and far-left fighters, as well as people linked to the failed coup.