Lingering anger in Europe over the U.S. invasion of Iraq explains why some allies are reluctant to heed U.S. calls for more combat troops in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday. It was his first public acknowledgment of such a link to the Iraq war.
Gates said he would attempt in a speech here Sunday at an international security conference to decouple perceptions of the Iraq war, in which NATO has no fighting role, from views of Afghanistan, where NATO is in charge of the fighting but has fallen short on commanders' requests for more troops.
On a flight to Munich from Vilnius, Lithuania, where he attended two days of NATO talks dominated by Afghanistan, Gates associated Iraq with what lay behind Europe's general skepticism about fighting in Afghanistan.
"From our perspective, I worry that for many Europeans the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan are confused," he told reporters traveling with him.
"I think they combine the two," he added. "Many of them I think have a problem with our involvement in Iraq and project that to Afghanistan."
Germany, which is hosting the Munich conference and which has refused Gates' appeals to send combat forces to southern Afghanistan, and France were among the most vocal opponents of the Iraq invasion prior to the war. Britain has been the most supportive, and it has the second-largest number of troops in Afghanistan.
Despite earlier refusals, France is considering sending troops to join the fight against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan after Canada's appeal for 1,000 extra forces to support its beleaguered force in volatile Kandahar province.
French officials cautioned that it was unlikely Paris would provide all the troops Canada is seeking and said a decision was unlikely before April, when NATO leaders meet for a summit in Bucharest, Romania.