NATO "a corpse," fumes former Canada military boss

OTTAWA Tue Oct 20, 2009 3:14pm EDT

NATO soldiers keep watch at a blast site outside a NATO military base in Kabul September 8, 2009. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

NATO soldiers keep watch at a blast site outside a NATO military base in Kabul September 8, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Omar Sobhani

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OTTAWA (Reuters) - The splits inside NATO over the Afghan war have turned the alliance into a rotting corpse that will be virtually impossible to revive, says the former head of Canada's armed forces.

General Rick Hillier also said the 28-member alliance was "dominated by jealousies and small, vicious political battles" and bemoaned its "lack of cohesion, clarity and professionalism" at the start of the Afghan mission.

Hillier made the angry comments in a new book called "A Soldier First: Bullets, Bureaucrats and the Politics of War," which was purchased by Reuters Tuesday ahead of its scheduled publication date next week. Hiller stepped down as chief of the defense staff last year.

Canada often complains that its 2,700 soldiers in southern Afghanistan are bearing the brunt of the war while other NATO members insist their troops be stationed in more peaceful parts of the country and limit what they can do.

"Afghanistan has revealed that NATO has reached the stage where it is a corpse decomposing and somebody's going to have to perform a Frankenstein-like life-giving act by breathing some lifesaving air through those rotten lips into those putrescent lungs or the alliance will be done," Hillier wrote.

"Any major setback in Afghanistan will see it off to the cleaners, and unless the alliance can snatch victory out of feeble efforts, it's not going to be long in existence in its present form."

So far, 131 Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan. The combat mission is due to end in 2011 and Ottawa says it has no plans to extend it.

Asked for a reaction, Brussels-based NATO spokesman James Appathurai replied: "I suppose if you're trying to drum up interest in your book, this is one way to get attention."

Hillier, who commanded the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan from February to August 2004, said he was alarmed to discover the extent to which the body had split into factions.

"It was more important within the alliance that every nation get to build up its fiefdom than it was to put together a solid team for a successful mission," he said.

"Some nations were meticulous about selecting the best people for the job ... many did not, and some of my headquarters officers didn't show up at all."

Hillier also complained that when NATO took over control of ISAF in 2003 it had "no strategy, no clear articulation of what they wanted to achieve ... it was abysmal."

He added: "NATO had started down a road that destroyed much of its credibility and in the end eroded support for the mission in every nation in the alliance. Sadly, years later, the situation remains unchanged."

Hillier -- who had an unusually high public profile and was always happy to talk to the media -- also attacked the federal bureaucracy in Ottawa, saying it was jealous of the boost in defense spending that occurred under the Conservatives.

He also complained that officials working for Prime Minister Stephen Harper told him he should be making fewer public pronouncements. He ignored the advice.

A spokesman for Harper declined to comment on the book.

(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Brussels; editing by Rob Wilson)

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