A Flicker of Hope for NATO’s Mission in Afghanistan?

A Flicker of Hope for NATO’s Mission in Afghanistan?

What looked like another bad day Feb. 7 for NATO's efforts in Afghanistan ended with a hopeful development. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates addressed his fellow defense ministers in Vilnius, Lithuania, with a request he had made many times over the past six months. He again asked allies to increase the number of troops in the country's south in preparation for the expected spring Taliban offensive and to shore up beleaguered forces from Canada, Britain, Denmark, and the Netherlands.

Once again, it appeared NATO allies would demur. Some even had the audacity to complain that the real blame should be laid on countries outside the NATO alliance not doing their part in Afghanistan. Then, unexpectedly, France stepped forward with a pledge of troops to stand alongside allies in the south.

France had listened to Gates but was likely more influenced by Canada's minister of defense, Peter MacKay, who reminded his NATO allies that his government is committed to the findings of a recent report by a special advisory panel that recommended pulling Canadian troops from combat roles in Kandahar province if other allies refuse to join the ongoing counterinsurgency there. MacKay also reminded allies that Canada has taken more casualties in Afghanistan on a per capita basis than any other country (78 killed in action and multiples more injured). With only 2,500 troops in the country, Canada has done a lion's share of the fighting.

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