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NATO Chief Wants To Remove Limits On Troops

From Canada’s Globe And Mail:

Photo

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

Remove restrictions on troops in Afghanistan, NATO chief says

JEFF SALLOT

QUEBEC CITY — The limitations some European countries put on their troops threaten to divide NATO and undermine counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan, the Secretary-General warned yesterday.

“NATO is about solidarity and sharing burdens and risks,” Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said, urging NATO parliamentarians to lift restrictions on their soldiers so they can assist Canadian, British and U.S. soldiers who are fighting the toughest battles in southern Afghanistan against the Taliban.

“I won’t start the blame game,” Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said. “You will not hear me mentioning names and blaming allies in public.”

But clearly some of the 26-member countries need to do more, he said via video link from Brussels to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, meeting in Quebec City.

“In Afghanistan, we’ve been tested like never before, even by suffering casualties. Our resources are stretched thin.”

The meetings here this week of NATO parliamentarians is a prelude to a summit in Latvia in 10 days where Prime Minister Stephen Harper, U.S. President George W. Bush and Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair are expected to put pressure on other leaders to step up the military effort in Afghanistan.

The corridor talk here was pointed. Parliamentarians from France, Italy and Germany were repeatedly asked why they would not lift so-called caveats that limit where and when their troops can operate.

Conservative MP Leon Benoit, the head of the Canadian delegation, said the political stakes are high for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. “If we do not succeed in Afghanistan the future of NATO is in question.”

The majority of the delegates, including the Europeans, supported a non-binding resolution calling for countries to drop caveats that might hinder operations.

Some soldiers are told by their governments they cannot fight at night.

Others are not permitted to fight at all, but simply to stand guard in safe areas.

A Spanish delegate complained that some of the caveats are unnecessarily secret, adding to the confusion about which military units can be brought into battle.

Military commanders have great difficulty responding to rapidly shifting conditions on the battlefield when they cannot use military units that might be in the best position for a particular operation, Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said.

“An operational commander can have lots of trouble if too many caveats exist in the written or unwritten form. Too many caveats limit the possibilities a commander has to use his forces,” he said.

Canadian Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor said Ottawa expects its allies to lift caveats, which he said slow the pace of NATO’s military advances.

Canada has about 2,500 troops involved in the Afghan mission and has been taking heavy casualties lately.

Mr. O’Connor has been travelling across Canada this week, giving speeches and making appearances that the Conservative government hopes will shore up public support for the Afghan mission.

Most Canadians are uncertain — he said they “float in the middle” — but can be brought around to support the mission with better PR. “We haven’t been as aggressive in this as we should have.”

Poland, one of NATO’s newer members, is increasing its troop commitment from just 10 now to a thousand early in the new year.

“And there will be no restrictions. No caveats. Our commandos will fight the terrorists,” Polish delegate Ryszard Gorecki said. “We have to be a reliable ally.”

European countries that suffered under the Soviet yoke in particular should remember that the Afghans were fighting the “Russian Communists before the Berlin Wall came down,” Mr. Gorecki said.

Karl Lamers, the head of the German delegation, said it is a constant struggle for European politicians to remind voters “Afghanistan was a nest of terrorism and we have to destroy it [the terrorism] or it will threaten our countries.”

But what has been the media’s litany lo these many years? "We need more international involvement."

Well, where are they?

This article was posted by Steve on Saturday, November 18th, 2006. Comments are currently closed.

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