The Pentagon is moving to blunt concern and criticism that is already coming from European allies, in the wake of an article in Wednesday's Los Angeles Times. The article quotes Defense Secretary Robert Gates as saying some NATO forces in Afghanistan have not been properly trained for the challenges they face there. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
The article quotes Secretary Gates as saying he is "worried" that NATO is deploying some military advisers and combat forces that, in his words, "are not properly trained and...don't know how to do counterinsurgency operations."
Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell says Secretary Gates was not misquoted, but that he is "disturbed" that the article implies he was critical of individual NATO countries. The article was published the day after the United States announced it will send 3,000 marines to Afghanistan, most of them to help NATO troops in restive southern areas.
"For the record, he did not -- to the L.A. Times or at any time otherwise -- publicly ever criticize any single country for the performance in or commitment to the mission in Afghanistan," said Morrell.
Rather, Morrell says, Gates was lamenting that NATO, as an alliance, has not updated its training to include counterinsurgency operations.
"As a result, he is concerned, and has expressed that concern to our allies, that we may be sending these Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams to Afghanistan which are not properly trained," said Morrell.
Morrell says Secretary Gates made similar points in December during meetings with NATO nations that have troops in Southern Afghanistan. But the Los Angeles Times quotes the secretary as saying none of the other NATO ministers said they agreed with his assessment.
The Times quotes unnamed U.S. military officers as saying their experience in Afghanistan supports the secretary's comments. They accuse NATO nations of using too much brute force, such as air strikes, and not enough foot patrols to provide security and reassure local residents.
The Times also quotes European officers as complaining that the United States allowed the security situation in Afghanistan to deteriorate by keeping too few troops in the country, leaving NATO forces with a particularly difficult situation.
In Europe Wednesday, officials reacted sharply to the Times story. The Dutch defense minister, who has troops to southern Afghanistan, called in the U.S. ambassador for an explanation. The minister Eimert van Middelkoop was quoted as saying "we do not recognize ourselves" in the Gates comments, and said it must be "a misunderstanding."
The Associated Press quotes the Dutch commander in Afghanistan's Uruzgan Province Colonel Nico Geerts as saying his troops "are well-prepared" for their mission. The Netherlands recently extended its commitment to Afghanistan until 2010.
In addition to the Dutch, there are large British and Canadian contingents in southern Afghanistan. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he has "the greatest respect" for what alliance members are doing in Afghanistan, particularly in the south.
The United States has frequently criticized NATO for not providing enough troops for Afghanistan, but has not publicly questioned its competence or preparation. The Pentagon press secretary, Geoff Morrell, stressed that Secretary Gates appreciates the contributions of NATO members who have sent troops to Afghanistan.
"He has gone to great pains to praise those countries who are, at great risk to their own militaries, taking the fight to the enemy in RC [Regional Command] South," said Morrell. "He has gone to great pains to praise the Canadians, to praise the Dutch, to praise the Brits for their professionalism, for their commitment and for their bravery."
Secretary Gates will meet with NATO defense ministers at a regular meeting early next month. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will meet with some of her European counterparts next week.