Monday, April 21, 2008

NATO's PR problems

From our top soldier, soon to retire, in Brussels (he sees other problems too):
Has NATO been winning the war for Afghan hearts and minds? Does it have enough combat troops in South Asia to vanquish the Taliban? Will the tribulations there cause the alliance to shatter?

There is no mistaking how General Rick Hillier's much less flamboyant predecessor as Canada's chief of defence, General Ray Henault, feels about all of this.

"I see this very much as how much we have accomplished in Afghanistan, rather than how little," said the soft-spoken franco-Manitoban air force pilot, who, after 40 years in uniform, is to retire to Winnipeg when his term as chairman of NATO's military committee ends in two months...

...Gen. Henault, who is the first Canadian in decades to hold a top position at NATO headquarters in Belgium, conceded that the alliance's Afghan exit strategy had been slowed down because there were not yet nearly enough military mentoring teams to train the national army and police. Gen. Henault also expressed frustration at those NATO countries who had hamstrung commanders in Afghanistan by invoking national caveats that made it impossible for their forces to participate in combat operations.

Henault was also strongly of the opinion that the alliance had not done a good job of communicating what was happening in Afghanistan to the Europeans and North Americans who footed the bills and provided the foot soldiers...

A partial explanation might be found in the fact that only six of NATO's 26 member nations (Canada is one of them) have military public affairs professionals [and ours are pretty constrained]. Another complication has been that while there was general agreement about the urgent need to establish a more effective public affairs strategy, ideas varied greatly about how to do this...


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