The revelation that Prince Harry has been courageously serving in Afghanistan for nearly three months (under a media blackout) should be applauded by all who believe that the war against Islamist terrorism is vital to the defense of the free world. As Chief of General Staff Sir Richard Dannatt stated, Harry is a “credit to the nation,” and his bravery is a powerful demonstration that the British warrior spirit is still alive and well. The young prince has shown outstanding leadership and heroism, qualities so badly needed today, and his commitment is a shining example at a time when anti-war sentiment is continuing to flourish across the continent of Europe.
Harry, third in line to the throne and a member of the Household Cavalry, was controversially denied the opportunity by his superiors to serve in Iraq last May following targeted threats by Islamic terrorist groups, but is now at the frontline of the war in south Asia. Nicknamed “the bullet magnet” by his comrades, he is serving as a lieutenant with the distinguished Gurkha regiment in southern Helmand province. He is reportedly responsible for calling in at least three major air strikes which claimed the lives of up to 30 terrorists.
The deployment of the Prince to fight against the murderous and barbaric Taliban speaks volumes about the British commitment to fighting the war in Afghanistan alongside the United States. There are nearly 8,000 British troops in the south of the country, waging war against a brutal enemy closely aligned with al-Qaeda. The English-speaking nations of the U.S., UK and Canada currently provide 25,000 of the total 43,000 troops serving in the NATO-led International Assistance Force (ISAF), nearly 60 percent of the total. The rest of the world, including most of Europe, provides just 18,000 soldiers. The only European countries that have significantly stepped up to the plate in the war zone are Poland and the Netherlands.
Germany, France, Turkey, Italy and Spain have all rejected calls to send their own soldiers to support British and Canadian forces in the south, on the grounds that the situation is too dangerous and that they are ‘overstretched.’ The German government recently rebuffed a request by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates for 1,000 troops to be sent to the battlefield, a decision that was loudly condemned by Afghan MPs, one of whom, Ramazan Bashardost, asked rightly of the Germans “whether their troops have come to Afghanistan to eat cake and rest, or to fight against terrorism?”
Most European contingents in Afghanistan continue to operate under up to 70 disgraceful ‘caveats,’ drawn up by their governments, designed to keep them out of harm’s way. German troops for example are confined to Kabul and the relatively peaceful north of the country, “except under exceptional circumstances and on a temporary basis.” According to a recent report in the London Sunday Times, German troops are restricted from traveling more than two hours away from a major medical facility, and German helicopter pilots are barred from flying at night, with a requirement to be back at base by mid-afternoon.
Major European Union countries such as Germany and France are in effect deploying an army of toy soldiers in Afghanistan, commanded by a mollycoddled political elite petrified of the public reaction to troop casualties. It is a sorry spectacle that makes a mockery of Europe’s professed commitment to the war on terror. It is ironic that many of the same countries that condemned America’s decision to liberate Iraq, claiming that it was a distraction from the securing of Afghanistan, are now refusing to pull their weight in the battle to keep the country free.
NATO operates to a great degree as a grand penny farthing astride the world stage, with the English-speaking nations bearing most of the military burden, and the rest of the alliance trailing behind. It is unacceptable that British, American and Canadian troops are laying down their lives in counter-terrorist operations while fellow NATO members participating under the same operational command refuse to lift a finger to help. NATO must return to its original ‘all for one, one for all’ spirit, or perish as an institution.
The NATO alliance cannot allow the Taliban to reassert control over vast swathes of Afghanistan. The country must not be permitted to once again become a safe haven for al-Qaeda and return to the Medieval savagery of the pre-9/11 era. To do so would be a disaster for the war against Islamist terrorism, and would result in the destruction of the credibility of NATO. What is needed is a powerful commitment from all alliance members to contribute personnel and materiel to the war in Afghanistan, and to stand up and be counted in a battle for the defense of the civilized world.
It is to be hoped that the example set by Prince Harry and thousands of other young British and American troops will help shame half-hearted European countries into doing more on the battlefields of Afghanistan. The cowardly indifference of Paris and Berlin in particular to a war that will have consequences for the whole of the West must come to an end. The chivalrous courage of a prince fighting for a noble cause is a reminder of what Britain and her closest ally the United States represent — two great nations selflessly defending the cause of liberty across the world.
Nile Gardiner is the Director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in Human Events