Thursday, January 17, 2008

Gates slams NATO force in Afghanistan

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has managed to offend some of America’s closest allies by questioning the quality of their troops.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times Gates questioned the ability of troops currently involved in action in Afghanistan against the Taliban and other insurgent groups. "I'm worried we have some military forces that don't know how to do counter-insurgency operations," Gates told the Los Angeles Times. "Most of the European forces, NATO forces, are not trained in counter-insurgency."

Several NATO countries whose troops are fighting - and dying - in Afghanistan, took offense. The Dutch government called the US ambassador in for an emergency meeting to explain Gates’ comments, while a British official was quoted this morning on CNN as saying Gates’ remarks were “bloody ridiculous.”

I know both from reading stories in the Canadian press and talking with Canadian friends that Canada takes their commitment to action in Afghanistan very seriously, as do the other nations with boots on the ground, which makes you wonder why Gates would make comments bound to insult other nations in a public forum like an interview with a major newspaper. Why Gates chose to make these comments now when the United States is sending 3,000 additional Marines to Afghanistan, and asking NATO members to send more troops as well, ahead of what they expect to be a renewed offensive by the Taliban once spring arrives is also strange.

The fact is that America subcontracted the war in Afghanistan to NATO to free up US forces to be used in Iraq. Keep in mind that NATO was an alliance formed during the Cold War to defend Europe from a massive invasion by the Soviet Union. Anti-terrorism operations in a country half a world away from Europe strays pretty far from NATO’s original mission.

Maybe then Gates has a point that NATO countries are not trained to fight against insurgents. But if he wants to criticize rather than pointing at some of our closest allies, perhaps he should call out some of his predecessors who pulled US forces out of Afghanistan before the job was done to send them off on a dubious war in Iraq.
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