ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) - Turkey decided to pull out troops from a NATO drill in Norway, announced President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday in a further sign of detachment from its Western allies, as Ankara develops closer ties with Russia and Iran.
Erdogan said the reason behind his order to withdraw 40 soldiers from the exercises was a chart prepared by NATO officials that designated him and the founder of the Turkish Republic Kemal Ataturk as the enemy and target.
Several hours after Erdogan's complaint, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg apologized over the incident and said the Norwegian staff responsible for depicting Erdogan and Ataturk as the enemy was relieved from duty.
Turkey is a member of NATO since 1952.
"I ordered the immediate pull out of our troops, even if they remove the chart. There cannot be such an alliance," Erdogan told members of his ruling Justice and Development Party in a televised speech.
Ankara's protest of NATO follows its September signing of $2.5 billion-worth deal with Russia to acquire S-400 air defense missiles, a move the North Atlantic Alliance has warned of "consequences."
Mutual visits between Tehran and Ankara by Erdogan, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and their respective military chiefs of staff for the first time in decades in the past several months have also raised eyebrows in Western capitals.
Erdogan is set to sit down with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on November 22, for the second time in a fortnight to discuss the civil war-stricken Syria.
The role of the Syrian Kurdish forces who are on good terms with both Moscow and Washington in the war against the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria is top of Erdogan's agenda.
As Russia has called for a more active involvement of the Kurds in a post-war Syria and a peaceful solution to the ongoing conflict there, Ankara hopes to dissuade Moscow from backing Kurdish aspirations for autonomy.
Erdogan once again threatened to invade the isolated Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northwestern Syria and clear it from whom he called "terrorists" of the US-backed People's Protection Units (YPG).
"There is a significant number, over 50 percent of our Arab brothers [in Afrin]," Erdogan said of the heavily Kurdish-populated area compromising of some 360 villages.
Afrin, mainly remaining intact from the destruction of the war, has welcomed tens of thousands of internally displaced people from other provinces in Syria where the government forces and armed opponents fight.
On Monday he said the US and Russia should pull out their soldiers from Syria if they wanted a non-military solution to the war as Putin and American President Donald Trump agreed last week in Vietnam.
Erdogan said the number of US army installation in the Kurdish-held Syria was 14.
"Why are you coming from 12 thousand kilometers distance to Syria," he asked the US, criticizing its presence in the war against the IS.
"Whoever created Daesh [IS] is the one founding the PYD," he claimed, accusing Washington of fostering the Islamist group and the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) whose armed wing YPG the US backs in fighting the former.
He further implied Kurdistan Region's September referendum on independence from Iraq was also encouraged by "the same" authority.
Editing by Sam A.