NATO's secretary-general apologized to Turkey on Friday after Ankara pulled its troops from a military exercise in Norway where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the country's founding leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk had been depicted as “enemies.”
The incidents took place during NATO's "Trident Javelin" exercise in the southern Norwegian city of Stavanger aimed at increasing coordination between the allies at headquarters level, which wound up Friday.
Erdogan said that Ankara had withdrawn its 40 troops from the exercise in protest, adding: "It's not possible to have this kind of alliance".
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, himself Norwegian, moved quickly to say sorry.
Stoltenberg, a former prime minister, emphasized the importance of Turkey within the alliance.
"I apologies for the offense 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."
Stoltenberg also said the individual responsible for the incident was not a NATO staff member. "He was a civilian contractor seconded by Norway and not a NATOemployee.”
Norway's Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen, speaking to AFP, also expressed "regret" over the incident.
Turkey's foreign ministry said that an image of a statue of Ataturk had been used to portray an enemy protagonist in a scenario at the exercise.
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.”
Erdogan 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'."
Ankara prosecutors said in a statement they had opened a criminal investigation against an individual or individuals who had denigrated and insulted Ataturk and Erdogan in the incidents.