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Gates: NATO 'as a whole' needs more training against insurgents

  • Story Highlights
  • Marines being sent to Afghanistan will help train NATO troops, Gates says
  • Gates: The "alliance as a whole has not trained for counterinsurgency"
  • UK lawmaker: Earlier Gates quotes "outrageous," UK defense ministry unfazed
  • Dutch call U.S. for explanation; Gates reassures Canada's defense minister
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday defended his recent comments that some NATO troops in Afghanistan lack the skills to battle insurgents.


U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says NATO as a whole is not trained for counterinsurgency.

Gates told reporters at the Pentagon that allied forces from the UK, Canada and the Netherlands have "stepped up to the plate and are playing a significant and powerful role in Afghanistan."

But he also said, "We have to acknowledge the reality that the alliance as a whole has not trained for counterinsurgency operations even though individual countries have considerable expertise at and success in this arena."

The deployment does not reflect any dissatisfaction with the performance of any nation's NATO forces fighting Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, he said. Video Watch Gates talk about the fracas »

Comments by Gates published in the Los Angeles Times this week caused a stir among leaders in Canada and the Netherlands. The Dutch defense minister asked the U.S. ambassador for an explanation and Canadians conferred with their U.S. counterparts.

The international fracas started Wednesday, when the Los Angeles Times quoted Gates as saying he's worried NATO is sending military advisers who "are not properly trained, and I'm worried we have some military forces that don't know how to do counterinsurgency operations."

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Troops from Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom operate alongside U.S. forces in southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban has recently gained strength.

On Thursday, British conservative lawmaker Patrick Mercer called Gates' comments "bloody outrageous," his press secretary told CNN.

The British Ministry of Defense, however, was unfazed by the remarks, saying in a statement: "UK forces have extensive experience in counterinsurgency," and the UK has a "good working relationship with the U.S. and other NATO allies."

Gates said during the Thursday news conference the U.S. is trying to significantly increase the number of "mentoring and liaison teams" used for training NATO forces. "Some of these groups are not fully trained," he said. "And that's true of every country, including the United States."

The United States has urged its NATO allies to send more troops to the region to help quell the growing insurgency. On Monday, the U.S. Marine Corps began notifying up to 3,200 Marines that they would deploy to southern Afghanistan in a few months to reinforce NATO troops.

Gates said some of the Marines could train troops. "I think the principle shortfall will be having as many trainers as we would like... we have responded to at least half of the requirement for trainers."

In the Times story, Gates was quoted as saying "most of the European forces, the NATO forces, are not trained in counterinsurgency" but have trained instead to defend against a Cold War threat -- a potential Soviet invasion of Western Europe.

Within hours, member nations reacted.

In the Netherlands, the Dutch defense minister called in the U.S. ambassador and asked him to explain Gates' remarks, said Sean McCormack, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department in Washington. He sought to defuse the tension in a news briefing Wednesday.

"We very much value the contributions of the Dutch armed forces and the sacrifices of the Dutch people in sending their young men and women to Afghanistan," McCormack said. "We have had to learn along the way how to fight a counterinsurgency and we're still learning."

In Canada, U.S. Ambassador David H. Wilkins reiterated U.S. support for Canadian troops fighting in Afghanistan. He noted Wednesday that he spent Christmas with Canadian forces serving there.

"These troops are heroes," said Wilkins in a statement posted on the Embassy Web site. "They are doing remarkable and effective work in Afghanistan under the toughest of circumstances."

Gates said he called Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay on Wednesday to explain his remarks.

"One thing I wanted to make clear to people yesterday was to call attention to what I had actually said -- and the actual quotes in the article -- which were addressed to the alliance as an alliance and not addressed to any particular country," Gates said Thursday.

MacKay told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that, during their conversation Wednesday, Gates said, "'I specifically made no reference to any country, and Canada is the last country that I would make those comments about.'"


MacKay also quoted Gates as saying his comments "'were not meant to be disparaging, disrespectful or in any way to diminish the effort which Canada has put forward.'"

NATO forces in Afghanistan number about 41,000 and come from 38 nations. That number includes 19,000 U.S. troops, according to the Pentagon. The mission is the largest ground operation in the military alliance's 60-year history. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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