Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The U.S. Disses NATO Over Afghanistan: Bloody Outrageous Or Bloody Spot On?

When Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently accused NATO forces in Afghanistan of being lousy at counterinsurgency warfare, it at first seemed to be an egregious example of the pot calling the kettle black given that the U.S.'s record in fighting Iraqi insurgents was downright dismal until it hit on the Surge strategy on the fourth or fifth try over a four-year period.

British conservative lawmaker Patrick Mercer called Gates' comments "bloody outrageous," but on further reflection he wasn't off base. Bill Roggio, the estimable military blogger, is of a like mind.

Roggio, in a guest turn at The Weekly Standard, writes that:

"The fracturing of NATO over the Afghanistan deployment becomes more apparent each day. The United States has pleaded for NATO allies to deploy an additional 7,500 combat troops to Afghanistan to blunt an expected Taliban spring offensive."
But with no relief available from the U.S.'s erstwhile allies, Gates has decided to deploy 3,200 Marines in what The Washington Post terms an effort to "shame" the NATO allies.

The Brits, who have the largest military presence in Afghanistan after the U.S., and Canada complain in turn that their forces suffer a disproportionate number of casualties.


"British officials note that the eastern region, where most U.S. forces are based, is far quieter than the Taliban-saturated center of British operations in Helmand, the country's top opium-producing province. The American rejoinder, spoken only in private with references to British operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, is that superior U.S. skills have made it so."
I am again with Bill, and add the following:

* As I have written umpteen times, no one knows what the situation would be in Afghanistan today if the Bush administration had fully committed to a substantial military presence and not siphoned off troops, materiel and intelligence assets for the fool's mission in Iraq, all the while playing paddycake with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

But allow me to take a guess: Osama bin Laden might still be mucking around in the mountainous region on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. There still would be a Taliban presence, but it would be unable to mount a spring offensive, let alone any pushback of consequence. And it is likely that Afghanistan as a whole would be more stable than its precarious state today, especially if the promised reconstruction aid had materialized.

* As unseemly as the very public trans-Atlantic bickering between the Pentagon and NATO may be and as symptomatic as it may be of the state of the War on Terror in its heartland, military allies have long bickered behind the scenes. There were huge disagreements between the U.S. and Britain during World War II on a wide range of issues, notably when and where to launch the D-Day invasion.

But allow me to pile on: As a frequent and sometimes bitter critic of U.S. military and foreign policy and having noted What Might Have Been in Afghanistan, NATO nations in general have not kept up their part of the bargain. Beyond that 7,500-troop shortfall, it doesn't have nearly enough firepower and airpower.

Part of the reason is that most NATO nations do not have robust public support for the Afghan mission. Gates noted that in somewhat backing off of his criticism in subsequent remarks. Nevertheless, some of these nations simply have reneged on their commitments.

As Wretchard notes ominously at The Belmont Club:

"For some NATO countries there is nothing in Afghanistan worth fighting for at all for except the maintenance of good diplomatic relationships with America and the preservation of the Atlantic Alliance. But that will only go so far; and at any rate America can be counted on to carry the load alone because in contrast, the United States which directly suffered the September 11 attacks, sees a victory in the Afghan/Pakistani theater as a matter of vital interest. Therefore the US will carry on regardless. Even Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama periodically declare their commitment to winning in that theater. The US and the European NATO countries may differ even in their conception of victory. For the US, victory is defined as creating and maintaining friendly governments in both Kabul and Islamabad by defeating al-Qaeda and its allies. For the Europeans it may mean bringing the Taliban to power in exchange for giving up its support of al-Qaeda."
And that would be a bloody shame.

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