NATO Allies Bristle at Criticisms From Gates

By Molly Moore and Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, January 17, 2008

PARIS, Jan. 16 -- Some of the United States' closest NATO allies expressed anger and astonishment Wednesday at published statements by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates describing their forces as poorly trained for fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Gates's comments, which were reported in the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, came the day after the Pentagon announced it would send about 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan because NATO allies had failed to contribute more troops.

The main forces fighting Taliban efforts to regroup in southern Afghanistan include some of Washington's staunchest allies -- Canada, Britain and the Netherlands.

Dutch Defense Minister Eimert van Middlekoop, whose government recently extended its commitment in Afghanistan for two years despite increasing public opposition, summoned the U.S. ambassador to explain Gates's criticism.

"This is not the Robert Gates we have come to know," Van Middlekoop told the Dutch broadcasting agency NOS. "It's also not the manner in which you treat each other when you have to cooperate with each other in the south of Afghanistan."

In Britain, Conservative Party lawmaker Patrick Mercer called the remarks "outrageous," the Associated Press reported.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack confirmed that the Dutch minister had summoned the ambassador, but he denied that the meeting had been "one of these sort of finger-wagging sessions and that it got emotional."

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said: "The secretary is not backing off his fundamental criticism that NATO needs to do a better job in training for counterinsurgency. But he is not -- nor has he ever -- criticized any particular nation for their service in Afghanistan."

"The article was wrong in suggesting that he criticized individual countries," Morrell said of Gates. "In fact, he has routinely praised the Canadians, the Brits, the Dutch and the Australians who are in the fight in southern Afghanistan. He appreciates their service. He's sympathetic for the losses they have suffered."

Morrell said Gates believes that NATO must train its troops better to deal with insurgents conducting asymmetric attacks and that, in particular, NATO training teams in Afghanistan must have such skills in order to properly teach and mentor Afghan security forces.

Gates telephoned the Canadian defense minister, Peter MacKay, Wednesday to explain what he had said. MacKay later told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that Gates had expressed only strong praise for Canada's role.

In the Los Angeles Times interview, Gates said, "I'm worried we have some military forces that don't know how to do counterinsurgency operations."

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