Yesterday on a trip to Afghanistan, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he believed forces deployed in southern Afghanistan (Canadian, British, Dutch) did not know how to combat a guerrilla insurgency. He also drew contrasts between the success of U.S. troops fighting in eastern Afghanistan and the escalating violence in the country’s south near Kahandahar where the Canadians are.
Gates made these remarks on the day Canada’s seventy-seventh soldier was killed. In fact, Canadian soldiers are getting killed at roughly three times the U.S. rate in combat in Afghanistan. Canadian military officials say this is so because they are carrying the fight to the Taliban.
Gate’s remarks sparked outrage at NATO, in London. Holland and in Ottawa. In Holland the Dutch government called in the U.S. amabassador for an explanation. In Ottawa, Mr. Gates called Defense Minister Peter MacKay to express his “regret and embarrassment.”
But even if this attempt at damage control is able to contain the brouhaha in the short term, many military officials feel the damage to the alliance and its war in Afghanistan may be lasting. How anxious, for example, will other countries be to pour more troops into southern Afghanistan?
After all the efforts to soft-pedal Mr. Gates’s comments the blunt force of his statment stuck: that the NATO allies, whether willing to fight or not, are ill prepared for counterinsurgency operation.
Does Pentagon Chief Robert Gates has any business criticizing Canadian soldiers?
Will this criticism further reduce support for the Afghan mission here in Canada?
Should we end our Afghan mission in 2009?