Last year, the profile of Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared among "enemies" during a NATO exercise in Norway, angering Turkey and causing a rift within the alliance. Having completed its investigation of the incident, NATO put a lid on the case, the Norwegian daily newspaper Aftenposten reported.
The exercise Trident Javelin, led from the Joint Warfare Center at Stavanger, was referred to as last year's most important NATO exercise. The exercise, which took place in November 2017, was seen as preparation for a still larger exercise, Trident Juncture, to be held in Norway in the autumn of 2018 featuring up to 40,000 troops. In connection with the desktop exercise, however, social media messages were published, presenting Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, as enemies.
Everything that happens as part of the exercise must be approved by the Exercise Management. A very central question has therefore been whether any NATO official approved the "Erdogan/Atatürk" message before it was sent out.
"If it appears that the message was sent out consciously, Turkey will react strongly. In the country, the story has already become part of the narrative about a 'smear campaign' against the country," Morten Myklevoll, the editor of the website tyrkiskpolitikk.no, told Aftenposten.
A subsequent Norwegian investigation quickly found out that the incident was caused by a Norwegian man of Kurdish descent who'd been hired as visiting specialist, who was removed from the exercise. While Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen pledged to get to the bottom of what had happened, the investigation was taken over by NATO's headquarters in Brussels.
"NATO military authorities have investigated the details of what happened. We have looked carefully at what we could learn and the necessary steps to prevent such an event from ever happening again. No information beyond this will be shared," the NATO Media Operation Center told Aftenposten.
Colonel Lieutenant Frank Sølvsberg, deputy speaker of Norwegian Defense Chief Haakon Bruun-Hanssen, said that it was up to NATO to complete the investigation of the incident since Trident Javelin was a NATO exercise, emphasizing that the Norwegian side had no comments beyond NATO's own.
A military source ventured to Aftenposten that the incident was likely to have been a "solo action" by the Norwegian man of Kurdish descent.
The starting point for the Trident Javelin exercise was a fictional situation that triggered Article 5 of the NATO Pact, according to which NATO member states are obliged to support each other in case of attack. The fictitious scenario featured an area similar to the Baltic States and Scandinavia. Both representatives of the Norwegian Defense Staff and the Armed Forces Operational Headquarters (FOH) participated in the planning of the exercise.