Friday, 19 February 2010
The Dutch are governed by a three-way coalition. Deputy Prime Minister Wouter Bos, leader of the left-leaning Labour Party, has promised to pull Dutch troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2010. His statement threatens to topple the Netherlands' government and undermine the US mission as the Pentagon steps up operations against the Taliban.
A Dutch withdrawal would be a blow to the Obama administration which has worked hard to persuade European nations to maintain - and ideally expand 0 their troop commitments to Afghanistan.
Dutch Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende and Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen, whose Christian Democrat Party is to the right of Mr Bos, have staked their political future on a position that the troops must stay, even if in a reduced role.
Since the start of Dutch operations there in 2006, 21 of their soldiers have died, watering down public support for the mission. Recent opinion polls, as well as the Dutch Parliament, favour withdrawal.
The loss of the 2,000 Dutch troops would further exacerbate the military gulf between NATO and the US, which is assuming an ever-larger share of the combat burden. The Dutch have steadfastly refused to send troops to more volatile regions of Afghanistan or to allow their troops to take part in combat missions, which could mute the tactical impact of a Dutch departure from Afghanistan.
Senior American officials had once talked of NATO adding as many as 10,000 new troops to the 30,000 US forces that are currently surging into Afghanistan, largely drawn from major alliance powers like Germany and France. But both countries have largely rebuffed the US requests, with France sending just 80 new troops and Germany committing to sending 500 reinforcements while reiterating its plans to begin withdrawing its forces next year.
It's good to know not every country panders to the orders of the US and there are some politicians in Europe who will respect public opinion. Shame it will never happen here where we can't see much difference among the main parties.