But early on, doubts arose about how serious the European allies were about their military commitments. Indeed, most of the NATO governments seemed to view their troop deployments as personnel for humanitarian relief and nation‐building tasks rather than for combat operations. The military heavy lifting was by and large left to U.S. forces and those of a few other countries, primarily Canada, Britain and the Netherlands.
Most NATO members have placed various caveats on the use of their military personnel. Some are prohibited from night operations (which are inherently more dangerous). Others are prohibited from being deployed in certain areas of the country—specifically, those areas where significant combat is occurring and additional troops might actually prove useful.
Germany is one of the worst offenders in that regard. Berlin has restricted its troops to the northern regions of Afghanistan, where virtually no fighting is taking place. Despite Washington’s repeated requests, the German government has refused to lift that restriction. That might be just as well. A December 2008 German parliamentary report concluded that the country’s troops in Afghanistan spent most of their time lounging around and drinking beer, and that many were now too fat and out of condition to be of any use in combat operations.
The desire of U.S. allies to keep their troops out of harm’s way is not confined to the Afghanistan theater—or for that matter to the NATO allies. A similar pattern emerged with the deployments of both South Korean and Japanese forces in Iraq. Seoul insisted that its troops be stationed only in Iraqi Kurdistan, by far the safest area of the country. But the South Korean government was a profile in courage compared to the Japanese government. Although Tokyo sent units of its Self‐Defense Force (SDF) to Iraq, it insisted that those forces must be confined to noncombat roles. Indeed, the SDF units had to be protected by the troops of other coalition countries. Thus, from a military standpoint, the Japanese contribution was not an asset to the occupation effort—it was a liability.