President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday said Ankara had pulled out 40 Turkish troops from a NATO exercise in Norway, in a new outburst of tensions with its Western allies.
Erdogan said in a televised speech to ruling party members he had ordered the troops to be removed from the exercise after an incident on Thursday deemed offensive to himself and the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
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 the failed coup and Ankara’s increasingly close alliance with Russia.
Without going into detail over the incident, 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’. And I said ‘absolutely, don’t hesitate, take them out right now'” Erdogan said.
“It’s not possible to have this kind of alliance,” he added, speaking in front of giant pictures of himself and Ataturk, who founded modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire in 1923.
Turkish officials contacted by AFP said there were for now no further details on the incident. There was also no immediate comment from the Norwegian military.
Some Turkish media speculated that his comments indicated that images of Ataturk and Erdogan had been used for target practice in the exercise.
NATO’s website lists two military exercises that are currently ongoing in Norway. It was not clear what drill Erdogan was referring to and there was no immediate comment from NATO.
While Turkey is still playing an active role in the alliance, its Western allies have been particularly troubled by a deal for Ankara to purchase an S-400 air defence system from Russia.