Having spent a third of my life on active service with NATO, and having been on the ground in the Pakistan/Afghanistan area during the 1980s, I claim a personal right of reply to Mr. Gates, who is himself no expert on guerrilla warfare and insurgency. (He is, like Condoleezza Rice, an expert on the former USSR and was repeatedly criticised for concocting evidence to show that the Soviet Union was stronger than it actually was.)
The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was established with the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington, D.C. on April 4th, 1949. This document was again based on (and an extension of) the Treaty of Brussels, signed in the Belgian capital on March 17th, 1948. Both treaties have the same purpose: to establish a strong defence and security structure for Europe and the North Atlantic region (including the USA and Canada). In the text of the treaties it says quite clearly:
The Parties of NATO agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all. Consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence, will assist the Party or Parties being attacked, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.There is no mention of Asia or other continents and areas in the North Atlantic Treaty and also no passage that declares NATO an auxiliary force of the USA, earmarked to support her in her dubious foreign adventures.
Afghanistan happens to be part of Asia, and therefore is not part of NATO's area of action. It is also a fact that Afghanistan has never committed a single act of aggression against any of the 26 member states of NATO. So why are NATO troops fighting in the South of Afghanistan and are functioning as occupation and garrison forces in the North of that country?
Like so many things in recent years it all is a result of "9/11" and the irrational and aggressive policy on which the Bush administration embarked ever since that day. George W. Bush blamed the terror acts of September 11th, 2001 - without giving so far any evidence whatsoever - on a group called "Al-Qaeda" (which means in Arabic the base) of which hardly anyone outside the professional intelligence community had ever even heard of before.
Those familiar with the matter knew that this group had been formed by the CIA in the 1980s as an Islamic frontline organisation for its own covert operations against the Soviets in Afghanistan. (The recently released film Charlie Wilson's War gives an interesting insight how this came all about.)
When Al-Qaeda's leader Abdullah Yusuf Azzam died in November 1989, he was replaced by the 42-year-old economist and CIA agent Osama bin Muhammad bin 'Awad bin Laden, son of a rich Saudi trader with close ties to the Saudi Royal Family. (The Bin Laden family has also long-established oil business contacts with the Bush family of Texas.)
As George W. Bush claimed that Afghanistan, by then freed from Russian occupation and ruled by the radical Islamic Taliban regime (which has its origins in a Pakistani education movement, formed also to strengthen the fight against the Soviets and partly financed by Saudi Arabia and the USA), was "sheltering Al-Qaeda on its territory" he held the poor and underdeveloped Asian country - known in ancient times as Bactria - responsible for the events of "9/11". Once again no evidence was provided by the White House, but massive US pressure bullied the NATO council to interpret "9/11" as "an attack on a member state". With this political carte blanche in his pocket, George W. Bush decided to invade Afghanistan and, as the attacked party, the USA asked NATO for political and military assistance.
Subsequently troops from many European NATO states joined the US forces in Afghanistan, the more cautious ones as garrison troops in the relatively pacified North, others (especially British, Canadian and Dutch units) in actively fighting the remnants of the Taliban in the South, close to the border with Pakistan (which is still the homeland and main base of the Taliban movement).
During the 40 years of the "Cold War" the specific structure of NATO as the world's only real and true defence alliance saved the peace in Europe and prevented any Soviet aggression against the member states. Everyone - in the West, in the East and anywhere else - knew that NATO would never start a war with anyone, nor support any aggression, but it would in the strongest and fiercest ways possible defend its members (marked blue on the map) against any offensive act, no matter which nation(s) would be the aggressor(s).
NATO's unique position not only gave her enormous power and stability, it positioned her on the moral highground and made her a respected player on the international stage, trusted by others and admired for her sincerity.
When I was on active service, we were proud to be NATO soldiers, who would never attack anyone, but be the staunch defenders of freedom, our homelands and their liberal way of life.
This is all in the past now. By allowing the USA to hijack NATO and turn it into an auxiliary force for the Bush administration's political and military adventures in the Middle East, the other member states have given up the principles of the North Atlantic Treaty. Today NATO is no longer an independent, trusted and respected multi-national defence organisation, but merely a convenient military tool, freely used and mis-used by the White House.
So when Robert Gates, the only career CIA agent ever to reach the position of Director and a man with much political mud on his boots, claims that NATO is not suited for fighting a guerrilla war in Afghanistan, he is probably right. Never mind that some of the European forces there - in particular Britain's SAS and Royal Marines - are much better trained than any US forces in the theatre, they should not be there at all, as Afghanistan is clearly "out of area" for NATO.
If Mr. Gates feels the need to fight a guerrilla war in Southern Afghanistan, maybe he should send more of his own troops to do it. However, his suggestion that the NATO troops' apparent lack of enthusiasm to kill Afghan civilians "contributes to rising violence in the country" is a most ridiculous statement. Ever since 2001 it has been the incompetence of the US leadership, their unwillingness to commit enough ground troops, and their careless use of US air power against innocent Afghan civilians that created growing instability and violent resistance in Afghanistan.
It was the USA that created Al-Qaeda and financed the Taliban, the USA that attacked, invaded and occupied Afghanistan, and the USA that established the current puppet regime of President Hamid Karzai (another former CIA agent and close friend of the Bush family), during whose time in office the production of Afghani opium has reached record amounts never seen before.
Afghanistan in its current state of insecurity and crisis is therefore entirely an American problem and not a job for NATO. The sooner European leaders realise that and withdraw their military support for the futile and dangerous US neo-colonialism, the sooner NATO might try to regain some of her previous good reputation, if that is still possible at all. With an ever more bellicose Russia, recovering her old political and military strength thanks to massive gains from oil and gas sales to the West, NATO might still be needed in the role for which it was originally created.
The Emerald Islander