U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates lauded NATO's mission in Afghanistan and heaped praise on Canada and other members of the alliance in a bid to stem the controversy he sparked with critical comments about the allies' ability to fight a counterinsurgency war against the Taliban. Mr. Gates told the Los Angeles Times in an interview published Wednesday that Canadian, Dutch and British troops are ill-suited for the fierce counterinsurgency war they are waging in southern Afghanistan, setting off international anger and a full-blown, damage-control exercise by the Pentagon.Gates now claims it was a matter of semantics and that he wasn't singling out any nation.
“We have to acknowledge the reality that the alliance as a whole has not trained for a counterinsurgency operation, even though individual countries have considerable expertise at and success in this arena. Our allies, including the Canadians, the British, the Dutch the Australians and others, are suffering losses as they demonstrate valour and skill in combat."Gates' ill-advised comments were dangerously provocative and came at a most inconvenient time. While he should be commended for recognizing his misstep (something his predecessor would have refused), he must not further complicate the already tremendous burden of fighting two wars with a military at its breaking point. It is because of this burden that we need our allies more than ever. And to publicly castigate those who sacrifice alongside American troops can only serve as a disincentive for others to join the fight.