THE task of making progress in Afghanistan is formidable enough without sniping among Nato allies who have forces there. Robert Gates, US Defence Secretary, is a widely experienced and diplomatically astute operator yet in an interview in an American newspaper he allowed himself to criticise the performance of Nato troops in tackling the Taliban. “I'm worried, “he said, “that they don't know how to do counterinsurgency operations. Most of the European forces were trained for the Fulda gap.” This gratuitous reference to the “Fulda gap” was to the German region where a Soviet land invasion of western Europe was regarded as most likely during the Cold War. The Canadian and Dutch governments which both have substantial forces in Afghanistan, immediately made representations to Washington and Nato HQ about Mr Gates' remarks. Britain, which has as much or possibly more experience of counterinsurgency as the United States, assumed that the remarks were aimed elsewhere. In an attempt to calm things down the Pentagon said that Mr Gates had been referring to the history of Nato and not to individual countries with troops in Afghanistan. Perhaps but the fact that Mr Gates said what he did shows how tense the situation must be in Afghanistan. The imminent appointment of Lord Paddy Ashdown as overall co-ordinator in Afghanistan (predicted in this space some weeks ago) cannot come soon enough. He will be taking on a vitally important task.


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