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, in an interview with The Times, questioned whether North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in southern Afghanistan were adequately trained for counterinsurgency operations. “I’m worried we have some military forces that don’t know how to do counterinsurgency operations,” he said in discussing forces in the southern region.
Gates made the remarks last week during a trip to Southern California and Nevada. The comments were published in an article Wednesday.
Although he did not criticize any country individually, Gates said he had raised the concerns at a meeting last month of NATO countries with troops in southern Afghanistan. Those forces are predominantly British, Canadian and Dutch. The question is considered sensitive for the Dutch, whose forces on Saturday killed two of their own troops and two allied Afghan soldiers in “friendly fire” incidents.
After meeting the U.S. ambassador in The Hague, Dutch Defense Minister Eimert van Middelkoop downplayed the issue.
“We assume this was a misunderstanding,” Van Middelkoop told the Dutch broadcaster NOS. “This is not the Robert Gates we have come to know. It’s also not the manner in which you treat each other when you have to cooperate with each other in the south of Afghanistan.”
The Pentagon press secretary, Geoff Morrell, did not challenge the accuracy of the quotes but said Gates was “disturbed” that he might be seen as singling out a particular country for criticism.
Instead, Morrell said, Gates had noted that “NATO as an alliance does not train for counterinsurgency. The alliance has never had to do it before.”