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NATO apologises to Turkey after Erdogan 'shown as enemy' in military drill

A NATO military exercise allegedly included Ataturk and Erdogan as targets [Getty]

Date of publication: 17 November, 2017

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NATO has apologised to Turkey after an image of Ataturk and Erdogan's name were portrayed as enemy targets, prompting President Erdogan to pull the 40 troops taking part.

NATO apologised to Turkey on Friday after using an image of the country's modern founder Ataturk and President Erdogan's name as targets in a military exercise.

Ankara pulled its 40 troops from the drill in Norway in protest, with NATO laying blame on a contractor, rather than an employee, for the incidents.

The alliance's Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, himself Norwegian, moved quickly to say sorry after an angry intervention by Erdogan in an episode that risked creating further strife between Turkey and its allies.

NATO gave no details on the nature of the incident, saying only that "offence had been caused".

But Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency said that an image of Ataturk had been used to portray an enemy protagonist in a scenario.

In a second incident a chat account was opened under Erdogan's name during a virtual scenario as a collaborator with a "leader of an enemy state".

Without going into detail, Erdogan said an image of Ataturk and his own name were used "and these were the targets".

He said Turkey's top general Hulusi Akar and EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik -who were on their way to a NATO conference in Halifax, Canada - had informed him of the incident.

"They said 'this has happened... and we are going to take out our 40 soldiers'," Erdogan said while speaking in front of giant pictures of himself and Ataturk.

"And I said 'Absolutely, don't hesitate, take them out right now'."

He added: "It's not possible to have this kind of alliance."

Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister, in his apology emphasised the importance of Turkey within the alliance.

"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," Stoltenberg said in a statement.

"Turkey is a valued NATO ally, which makes important contributions to allied security."

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire in 1923 and is widely credited with salvaging a functioning Turkish state in the 1919-1923 War of Independence.

Insulting his memory is a criminal offence in Turkey that is punishable by jail.

While critics accuse Erdogan of tainting the secular vision of Ataturk, the president has in recent months made increasingly clear his admiration for Turkey's modern founder.

On the November 10 anniversary of Ataturk's death in 1938, Erdogan eulogised Turkey's first president, saying he should be remembered with "grace and gratitude". 

Turkey, which became a member of NATO in 1952, is a key member of the alliance but tensions have grown in recent months over its crackdown after a failed coup and Ankara's increasingly close alliance with Russia.

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