Last week Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that some NATO forces in southern Afghanistan weren’t sufficiently trained for counter-insurgency warfare. “I’m worried we have some military forces that don’t know how to do counter-insurgency operations,” were his exact words.
NATO members with troops in the region were, of course, peeved — especially The Netherlands, which has 1,500 troops in Uruzgan province. The L.A. Times reports:
The Dutch Defense Ministry on Wednesday summoned the U.S. ambassador as other American allies denounced criticism of NATO forces in Afghanistan by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. The U.S. ambassador, Roland Arnall, met with ministry officials to offer a “clarification of the comments” by Gates, said chief State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.
Gates’ timing couldn’t have been worse. Last week two Dutch soldiers were accidentally killed by their comrades during a firefight with Taliban insurgents. The Dutch are extremely sensitive to any casualties — consider the overwhelming reaction to the two soldiers dying in heavy fighting last summer — so you can imagine how they feel about friendly fire deaths. Gates, normally a pretty diplomatic SecDef, must have come across as a first-class jerk to our Dutch friends.
But at the same time, the accidental killings essentially underscore Gates’ criticism. The deaths reportedly occured when a unit split into two to surround a Taliban force and started shooting across the Taliban at each other. Fluid battlefields are a hallmark of counter-insurgencies: better training can help prepare troops for situations like this. It’s impossible to prevent all fratricide, of course, but with good training and good leadership you can reduce the risk considerably.
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Grieve for your dead, then get back to work