22nd Feb 2020

Dutch to pull troops out of Aghanistan following government collapse

  • Jan-Peter Balkenende failed to persuade his coalition partners on Afghanistan (Photo: Wikipedia)

Dutch Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende said on Sunday (22 February) that his country's troops are likely to be pulled out of Afghanistan by the end of this year, a move he said may prompt other wavering states - including EU members - to think about doing the same.

"If nothing else will take its place, then it ends," Mr Balkenende told Buitenhof, a domestic current affairs television programme, reports Reuters.

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The centre-right leader was speaking a day after his government collapsed over the issue. The Labour Party quit the the coalition on Saturday, saying it could not agree to a Nato request to extend the Dutch mission beyond 2010. The Netherlands is among the top ten contributors to Afghanistan. Twenty-one of its soldiers have been killed there.

Currently, there are around 2000 Dutch troops the dangerous Afghan province of Uruzgan. They are due to start leaving the country in August.

The Netherlands' inner political turmoil may have wider implications for Nato's Afghan mission. Unpopular among much of the wider European public, there is a lack of strong political will behind the mission.

There is also tension between contributing countries. Germany, which has the third biggest contingent behind the US and the UK, has its troops mainly stationed in the less risky northern part of the country. Fighting is heaviest in the south.

France, which has just over 3000 troops in Afghanistan last month said it will not be sending any more, while London is feeling the political toll of the high number British soldiers who have died in Afghanistan - over 100 last year.

"The moment the Netherlands says as sole and first country we will no longer have activities at the end of 2010, it will raise questions in other countries and this really pains me," Mr Balkenende said.

The move is a set-back for US President Barack Obama, who has been arm-twisting EU nations to do more in Afghanistan since making it a key plank of his foreign policy.

Mr Obama's characterisation last year of Afghanistan and Pakistan being where US security is "at stake" and his pledge to raise US military presence by 30,000 stands in stark contrast to other members of the alliance.

Despite exhortations from Washington and a tour of many capitals by Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, other Nato members in December agreed to send about 7,000. The US had originally requested 10,000.

However, Nato's senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, Mark Sedwell, has rejected the idea that other countries will follow the Dutch lead.

"We shouldn't assume that because one country has taken a decision, others will necessarily follow. Each country has its own political situation," he told told the BBC.

Dutch elections

The collapse of the government could result in a swing to the right in the 16-million strong country, which has been suffering from tensions over how to treat its Muslim and wider immigrant communities. The Dutch are also angry at the prospect of a tough budget later this year to combat the effects of the economic crisis.

Polls show that the anti-immigration Freedom Party, which was second only to Mr Balkenende's Christian Democrats in last June's European elections, may gain the most from the coalition's dissolution.

While a general election is expected to be called in May or June, the first test of public opinion will come on 3 March during local elections.

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