Turkey withdraws troops from NATO drill in Norway over photo scandal

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a meeting during the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) summit at the NATO headquarters, in Brussels, on May 25, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / THIERRY CHARLIER

Amid rising tension between Turkey and the West, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday said Ankara has withdrawn its troops from a NATO military exercise after the country’s founder Atatürk and himself were included on a chart of “enemies,” the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

“They had a chart of ‘enemies’ in Norway. On that chart was my name and [Mustafa Kemal] Atatürk’s picture,” Erdoğan said during a ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) meeting in Ankara.

Saying that he was informed about the issue by Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar and EU Affairs Minister Ömer Çelik, Erdoğan continued: “They told me that they are withdrawing our 40 soldiers from there [Norway]. I told them to do that immediately. There can be no alliance like that.”

Relations between Turkey and the NATO allies have been strained due to a purge carried out by the government and violations of human rights following a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016 as well as Turkey’s decision to buy a Russian S-400 missile system despite warnings from its allies.

Turkey’s state-run news agency Anadolu on Sept. 21 tweeted an infographic depicting the capacity of the S-400 to shoot down US-NATO planes and missiles.

Pentagon spokesman Johnny Michael said that the US has relayed its concerns to Turkish officials over the purchase of an S-400 air defense system from Russia.

Erdoğan criticized those questioning Turkey buying a Russian air defense system and suggested Ankara would make its own decisions on what to buy, regardless of NATO’s wishes.

The Star daily, a staunch supporter of Erdoğan, on Nov. 5 said NATO has started a new military drill in the Mediterranean to surround Turkey. “The US, Germany and Greece have launched a missile drill called Artemis to attack ‘an enemy in the East’,” the newspaper said in its lead story. According to Star the drill is a result of Turkey’s insistence on buying an S-400 air defense system from Russia despite warnings from NATO.

Turkish government circles have been accusing the US of being behind the coup attempt last July.

Then-Minister of Labor and Social Security Süleyman Soylu stated on July 19, 2016 that the US was behind the coup attempt.

The İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor in April launched an investigation into 17 prominent US figures including Senator Chuck Schumer, former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara and former CIA Director John Brenan for alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement, which the Turkish government accuses of masterminding the coup attempt.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it.

Burhan Kuzu, a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) Central Decision and Executive Board (MKYK) and an AKP İstanbul deputy, on Aug. 20 called on prosecutors to investigate İncirlik Airbase, used by NATO, over Turkey’s botched coup attempt last summer.

The government is at the center of criticism over dismissing 22,920 military personnel due to their ties to the Gülen movement, despite the fact that the Turkish military stated on July 27 that only 8,651 military members including cadets and conscripts took part in the failed coup.

Henri Barkey, director of the Middle East Program at the Washington-based Wilson Center, said on Feb. 1 that many generals purged by the Turkish government are pro-NATO and pro-American, saying this could create a shift in Turkey-NATO relations.

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