Dutch troops to pull out of Afghanistan by the end of year after coalition falls
Dutch troops will almost certainly be withdrawn from Afghanistan this year following the collapse of the coalition government in The Hague.
The Telegraph | February 20, 2010
The government fell because of a dispute between its main partners over how long its soldiers should stay in the war.
A withdrawal, expected to begin in August and be completed by December, would come as a major blow to Nato efforts to battle the Taliban and reassure Afghans that the West will stay and protect them.
For several years thousands of Dutch troops have been based in Uruzgan Province, to the north of Helmand where British soldiers are engaged in deadly fighting against insurgents.
A withdrawal of 2000 Dutch soldiers – whose operation has won the respect of Nato commanders – could put more pressure on overstretched British soldiers in southern Afghanistan, who may be called on to plug the gap which would be left by a Dutch withdrawal.
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, leader of the centre-right Christian Democrats, announced on Saturday that the coalition government he has led for nearly three years could not continue. Mr Balkenende had wanted to extend the deployment of Dutch troops beyond an August deadline, but the Labour Party, his junior partner in the coalition, was opposed.
Dutch troops had already extended their stay after originally planning to withdraw in 2008. Their deployment has long been controversial with an electorate more at ease with peacekeeping operations than fighting a war. Twenty-one Dutch soldiers have died in Afghanistan. The province where they are based, Uruzgan, is a mountainous area of the south where Taliban support is strong.
If the Dutch do withdraw, as seems almost certain now, they would be the first of the ten major Nato contributing nations to pull out of Afghanistan – handing a major propaganda victory to the Taliban, which believes it simply has to wait for western powers to tire of the costly war.
The coalition collapse came after more than 15 hours of talks that lasted until early on Saturday, and acrimonious exchanges throughout the week. Months of political turmoil could lie ahead for the Netherlands. Elections are likely later this year, and the big winner could be the controversial Right-winger Geert Wilders.
Opinion polls predict that his anti-immigration Freedom Party could become the second-largest or even largest party, making him the likely power broker in Dutch politics.