Saturday, January 19, 2008

Defense Secretary Robert Gates Takes a Canadian Shot Across his Bow

It will resonate around the world.

All Defense Secretary Robert Gates did was to complain that the contribution our NATO allies were making in our anti-Taliban campaign was not amounting to heavy lifting.In an interview, all Gates said was,
I'm worried we're deploying NATO advisors that are not properly trained and I'm worried we have some military forces that don't know how to do counterinsurgency operations. . . Most of the European forces, NATO forces, are not trained in counterinsurgency; they were trained for the Fulda Gap.
I wonder how many of my fellow Americans have ever heard of the Fulda Gap? I certainly haven't. But Gates may have a point. Since the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union unraveled, the Fulda Gap probably shouldn't have remained the central objective in the NATO training mission. Not until you remember that George Bush has done his level best to restart the Cold War, anyways.

But be that as it may, go figure Gates' surprise at the reaction to his 'observations'. The Dutch Defense Ministry summoned the U.S. ambassador for an explanation. In Britain, Conservative lawmaker and former British infantry officer, Patrick Mercer told The Associated Press that Gates' reported comments were,
. . . bloody outrageous. I would beg the Americans to understand that we are their closest allies, and our men are bleeding and dying in large numbers. . . These sorts of things are just not helpful among allied nations.
Col. Nico Geerts, the Dutch commander in Uruzgan, responded,
Our troops, men and women, are well-prepared for the mission. Everyone in the south, the British, the Canadians, the Romanians and our other allies, are working hard here. ... I wouldn't know what the secretary of defense of America is basing this on.
I could go on, if I had the patience and time to do additional Googling this morning. But what really got my attention, right off the bat, was the Canadian reaction in the form of a lead editorial from the Toronto Star:
American Defence Secretary Robert Gates may well be right when he says that Canadian and European troops in Afghanistan are not well equipped to fight a counter-insurgency campaign. But what has been lost in the controversy over his impolitic remarks is that we did not sign on to fight insurgents – there or anywhere else.

The International Stabilization and Assistance Force, which NATO now commands and which includes some 2,500 Canadian soldiers, was set up in late 2001 by the United Nations to do just what its name suggests – stabilize a country emerging from years of civil war and assist the fledgling Kabul government in its redevelopment efforts.

Fighting the Taliban (or, as they were called then, the Taliban "remnants") was a job that Washington insisted on reserving to itself through what it called Operation Enduring Freedom.

Canada helped out in that one too, sending troops to serve under U.S. command in 2002. But in those days, America wanted to keep its sometimes squeamish allies well away from a dark war that was aimed primarily at capturing terror suspects and transferring them to interrogators at Guantanamo Bay.

It was only after 2003, when the U.S. found itself troop-short and bogged down in Iraq, that Washington changed the rules of engagement for its allies. Gradually, Afghanistan became NATO's war. Washington's plan then was to gradually reduce its 20,000 troop commitment to Afghanistan and switch them over to Iraq.

Which is why, since 2006, Canadian troops have found themselves under fire in the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.

It's worth remembering that we keep sending soldiers to Afghanistan not because Canada has been attacked by the Taliban, but because our friends, the Americans, feel they are at war with them.

The Dutch are in southern Afghanistan for the same reason. So are the British – who have paid a severe price at home for their decision to support Washington's various anti-Islamist wars.

That's why Gates' comments rub so raw in this and other NATO countries. Since 2001, one Canadian diplomat and 77 soldiers have died in Afghanistan. More than 250 more have been wounded in action. Yet this was never our war. It was always America's.

The U.S. chose to declare Afghanistan the enemy after the terrorist attacks of September 2001. Had Washington elected to avenge 9/11 by invading the country from which most of those terrorists came, Canadian troops would now be fighting in Saudi Arabia.

Their call, their war, their show.
Which lays it all out.

Frankly, I wonder what took so long for this thinly veiled allied grievance to rear its ugly head and bite our American
Pentagon asses on their butts. The central organizing tenant of NATO is that an attack on one will be treated as an attack upon all. 9-11-01 was certainly an un-provoked attack on the USA, I would argue. So our very good allies sprang into line against al Qaeda, only to be rebuffed initially, because Bush wanted to go it alone in Afghanistan.

Imagine the growing concern of our trusting allies, however, as they watched Busheney pour the vast preponderance of our military and economic assets into an unprovoked invasion and endless occupation of Iraq? Certainly, NATO's covenant did not envision an attacked member, supported by every one else, would dare to go off on another tangent altogether? While they're working to pull our chestnuts out of the fire in Afghanistan, we go off and start an even bigger and more expensive and expansive fire in Iraquagmire?

You really have to wonder at Gates' naiveté, not to have anticipated sparking this righteous anger and rage. The Pentagon is as much in a bubble as is their outpost in the Green Zone.

7 Moderated Comments:

Blogger Indicted Plagiarist said...

Problems, problems, problems.

Army Chief of Staff George Casey said in another interview this week:

The surge has sucked all of the flexibility out of the system, And we need to find a way of getting back into balance.

1/18/2008 08:45:00 AM  
Blogger Boris said...

Whadya mean?
Everything's AOK
Democracy on the march!

1/18/2008 09:12:00 AM  
Blogger Emily said...

Canada has also put Gitmo on torture watch list.

CTV in Canada reported yesterday that it had “obtained documents that put Guantanamo Bay on a torture watch list” created by the Canadian government. The list is part of a “torture awareness workshop” that tells diplomats where to watch for abuse.

1/18/2008 09:26:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...


The Canadian news editorial is absolutely right!

I can tell you that I personally witnessed in 2003-2004, when it was clear that Bush's troops wouldn't be back home on schedule, Bush's emissaries started to seriously saber rattle in NATO.

The US delegation in NATO were all over the place pleading (and I weigh my words) with member nations to go into Afghanistan. There were bickerings as to who should take command, US Operation Freedom Forces Afgahnistan chief or SACEUR...

(Incidentally, I mentioned this in a follow on comment in my European Tribune page)

The US kept harping on the one for all all for one provision in the treaty -- France was adamant about the rules of engagement, i.e., NATO forces would be under NATO command.

1/18/2008 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger LTE said...

Afghanistanization of the conflict -- where Afghans take over fighting the Taliban -- sounds nice for domestic consumption in the U.S. and Canada. The reality is otherwise.

An army reflects the society from which it springs. The current state of affairs doesn't give much cause for hope for the Afghan National Army.

Afghanistan is riven by ethnic divisions and ruled by corrupt warlords. President Hamid Karzai is in effect mayor of Kabul and even there it is only NATO keeping him in power.

What and who are Afghan soldiers fighting for? Certainly not a unified homeland. Are they inspired by the leadership of Karzai or their non-descript generals? Meanwhile, ethnic splits and warlordism make such things as unit and social cohesion, and esprit de corps very difficult to achieve and desertion rates remain high.

They're also hedging their bets. Knowing that NATO could do a cut and run, the impetus to throw heart and soul into fighting the Taliban is weak.

It's not that Afghans can't fight. But what impelled the people who drove out the Russians can't be instilled by western trainers.

1/20/2008 07:15:00 AM  
Blogger DB Cooper said...

This question is mainly addressed to Hillblogger, but others can chime in:

In the clearest indication yet of the UK's public disengagement from the US 'war on terror', British ministers have finally dropped the term and decided henceforth to refer to jihadis as mere "criminals" rather than a homogenous ideology-ridden group of desperadoes.

The newly-outlined move to drop the controversial term 'war on terror' is said to be important. The British government's attempt to distance itself from received American myopia on the issue is seen as part of its increasing focus on preventing indoctrination of young Muslims.

In December, Britain's foreign secretary David Miliband insisted the term "war on terror" had not been banned at the Foreign Office, but,

I tend not to use it. That is mainly because it has come to be associated in a narrow way with the use of force against terrorism, which while sometimes necessary is not sufficient. Terrorism inspired by Al-Qaida needed (and needs) a military response in Afghanistan; it needs tightened security measures at home and abroad (see the recent bombing in Algeria); but we also need to engage the ideology and grievances which can increase radicalization and lead to violent extremism.

According to British media reports quoting unnamed bureaucrats, London is desperate to ensure that

as you disrupt radicalization you must be aware of how you describe it and must not do so in a way that is inadvertently inflammatory.

My question is how might this re-definition, when and if applied to Afghanistan-Pakistan, change NATO's mission there?

1/21/2008 06:24:00 PM  
Blogger Indicted Plagiarist said...

Canadian Manley report early yesterday:

The day after 9/11, the UN Security Council and NATO collectively deemed the attacks on the United States as an attack against their respective members.

In December of 2001, the UN authorized the International Security Assistance Force to secure Kabul and vicinity, and two years later, NATO assumed command of ISAF.

Correctly, the panel doesn't "accept any parallel between the Afghanistan mission and the U.S.-led war in Iraq. To confuse the two is to overlook the authority of the UN, the collective decisions of NATO and the legitimacy of the Afghan government that has sought Canada's engagement."

1/23/2008 06:47:00 AM  

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