UK Army chiefs Slam Gates and US Military
Daily Mail (UK)
January 17, 2008

British commanders were outraged after the US defence secretary criticised other Nato troops for their role in the bloody conflict in Afghanistan.

Robert Gates said the 30,000 US troops in Afghanistan were "doing a terrific job" in confronting the Taliban insurgency.

He added, however: "I think our allies over there, this is not something they have any experience with."

Mr Gates's comments caused an international outcry following months of simmering tensions between the U.S. and its allies over strategy in Afghanistan.

Senior British officers in Afghanistan said he should "wind his neck in".

British commanders have favoured a more "softly-softly" approach focusing on hearts and minds, and privately criticise the Americans for relying too much on heavy firepower and air strikes, without taking sufficient care to avoid civilian casualties.

The Americans, already frustrated at the failure of some Nato allies to provide troops, say British plans to make use of untrained Afghan militias to fight the Taliban are doomed to failure.

Mr Gates told the Los Angeles Times he believed America's allies lack the skills to pursue successful counter-insurgency operations against Taliban guerillas.

He said: "Most of the European forces, Nato forces, are not trained in counter-insurgency.

"I'm worried we're deploying [military advisers] that are not properly trained and I'm worried we have some military forces that don't know how to do counter-insurgency operations."

In even blunter criticism, he went on: "Our guys in the east, under General Rodriguez, are doing a terrific job.

"They've got the [counter-insurgency] thing down pat, but I think our allies over there, this is not something they have any experience with."

Britain's military spokesman in southern Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel Simon Millar, said: "I'm disappointed a coalition partner is making comments like that when British soldiers are dying in this part of the world, carrying out a UN mandate to bring peace and stability.

"We're doing a bloody good job. We are perhaps a little more circumspect than the Americans in the way we deploy our weapons systems.

"We don't trumpet body counts.

"Our rules of engagement are more stringent, but they are there to protect noncombatants.

"We believe in winning the hearts and minds of the people.

"That is what counter-insurgency is all about."

Britain has around 7,700 personnel in Afghanistan, where 86 servicemen have died since 2001.

Conservative MP Patrick Mercer, a former Army commander, called Mr Gates's comments "bloody outrageous".

He added: "I would beg the Americans to understand that we are their closest allies, and our men are bleeding and dying in large numbers."

Britain and the U.S. are already split over the war in Iraq, with President George Bush frustrated at Gordon Brown's withdrawal of British forces from Basra.

After Mr Gates made his remarks the Dutch government, which also has troops fighting and dying in Afghanistan, summoned the U.S. ambassador to demand an explanation.

Colonel Nico Geerts, the Dutch commander in Uruzgan, said: "Everyone in the south, the British, the Canadians, the Romanians and our other allies, are working hard here.

"I wouldn't know what the secretary of defence of America is basing this on."

Nato's Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer rejected Mr Gates's criticism.

Officials tried desperately to calm the row.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Mr Gates was talking about the lack of experience of Nato as a whole in fighting counterinsurgency, but had not intended to criticise specific countries.

The MOD insisted it had "a good working relationship with the U.S.", and played down the comments from Lieutenant Colonel Millar.

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