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Poster gaffe leads to Turkish withdrawal from NATO drill

Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli (L) speaks to Britain's Secretary of State for Defense Gavin Williamson (R) during a defense ministers' meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on November 8, 2017. Turkey withdrew its troops from a NATO drill in Norway on Friday when a poster was unveiled during the exercise depicting both President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the country’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as “enemies.” (AFP / JOHN THYS)
ANKARA: Turkey withdrew its troops from a NATO drill in Norway on Friday when a poster was unveiled during the exercise depicting both President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the country’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as “enemies.”

“There can be no pact, no alliance like that,” Erdogan said during a meeting with members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the Turkish capital.

He added that the 40 Turkish troops would not return to the drill even if their names were removed from the poster. Erdogan said he had been informed of the issue by Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar and EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik, both of whom were on their way to Canada, and who took the decision to remove Turkish troops from the drill.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg quickly issued an official apology and stressed that “the incidents were the result of an individual’s actions and do not reflect the views of NATO. Turkey is a valued NATO ally, which makes important contributions to Allied security.”

Turkey, a NATO member since 1952, has the second largest military power in the alliance, after the US.

The individual was reportedly a civilian contractor of Turkish origin, and not a NATO employee. He was immediately removed from the exercise. But even with Stoltenberg’s apology and explanation, it seems likely the incident will cause some damage to an already fraught relationship between Turkey and NATO.

Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat who now chairs the Istanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), said the situation is unprecedented.

“In the past, difficulties (with NATO) have surfaced because of bilateral disputes with Greece on the Aegean, but never as a result of Turkey being categorized as an enemy country,” Ulgen told Arab News.

He added that the swift reaction from the highest level of NATO’s leadership was a positive sign of the organization’s recognition of Turkey’s importance as an ally.

Lars Haugom, a research fellow at Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies (IFS) focusing on civil-military relations in Turkey, said this “worrisome development” was not a true reflection of how Norway perceives its NATO allies.

“There is no wish to alienate a major partner such as Turkey from the alliance. Hopefully (NATO’s reaction) will be enough to defuse the situation,” he told Arab News. “However, the case illustrates how tensions between Turkey and Western countries now spill over into military cooperation in NATO,” Haugom added.

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