Several of the U.S.’s NATO allies were in an uproar following comments by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates in which he criticized NATO countries fighting in Afghanistan of lacking proper experience in counter-insurgency warfare, according to a report in the Times of London on Wednesday.
Gates said failings in the south were contributing to the rising violence in the fight against the Taliban, the Times reported.
His outspoken criticism, voiced in an interview with an American newspaper, provoked instant reactions from Britain, Canada and the Netherlands, the three most prominent members of the alliance, who have endured much of the fiercest fighting in southern Afghanistan.
Mr Gates was quoted as saying: “I’m worried we’re deploying [military advisers] that are not properly trained, and I’m worried we have some military forces that don’t know how to do counter-insurgency operations.”
The Dutch were so angry at what appeared to be direct criticism that they summoned the US Ambassador in The Hague to explain Gates’s comments. British and Dutch officials refused to believe that the criticism was directed at them, but Eric Adelman, the US Assistant Secretary of Defense, nonetheless had to ring around NATO capitals to give reassurance that Gates was not attacking any individual member.
As officials tried to smooth over the apparent rift, his comments drew a fierce response. Patrick Mercer, a Conservative MP and a former British Army officer, said they were “bloody outrageous,” the Times reported.
“I would beg the Americans to understand that we are their closest allies, and our men are bleeding and dying in large numbers,” Mercer said.
Britain has 7,800 troops in southern Afghanistan, where 81 have been killed. The Dutch and the Canadians have also lost a substantial number of soldiers in counter-insurgency operations against the Taliban.