ARLINGTON, Va. — The upcoming deployment of an additional 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan does not signify that the U.S. government is dissatisfied with the performance of NATO troops in the southern part of the country, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.
Gates made the point Thursday while talking to reporters in the wake of a controversy surrounding a recent Los Angeles Times article in which Gates was quoted as saying most NATO troops are not trained in counterinsurgency.
“There have been several recent media reports of discontent in the United States and among other NATO members about operations in Afghanistan,” Gates said. “This does not reflect reality or, I believe, the views of our governments.”
Gates praised the performance of NATO allies in Afghanistan, saying they had dealt the Taliban decisive blows last year, forcing the enemy to stop attacking coalition forces in set battles and resort to suicide bombings.
In comments published in Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times, Gates appeared to say that U.S. forces in Afghanistan are better at counterinsurgency than NATO forces.
“Our guys in the east, under Gen. Rodriguez, are doing a terrific job,” the paper quoted Gates as saying. “They’ve got the [counterinsurgency] thing down pat. But I think our allies over there, this is not something they have any experience with.”
Asked about those comments Thursday, Gates said he was not drawing a comparison between U.S. and NATO troops.
“I was simply saying that we have had a successful counterinsurgency effort in the east,” he said. “I visited Khost when I was there last December … and what I saw was a classic, textbook case of a successful counterinsurgency of all the different elements coming together, including locals and the national government, the Afghan security forces and our own forces.”
In Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times story, Gates also expressed concern that training teams being sent to Afghanistan were not properly trained themselves in counterinsurgency.
Gates said Thursday his comments were about NATO as a whole and not individual countries.
Still, Gates said he had heard from commanders in the field that some training teams being sent to Afghanistan are not fully trained.
“I just want to make sure that as we ramp the number of these OMLTs (Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams), these mentoring teams, that they are fully trained when they go into the theater, and that is true of every country, including the United States,” he said.