Row over Belgian ground troops in Afghanistan

23rd April 2009, Comments 0 comments

50 Belgian paratroopers are working in the north of Afghanistan as advisers to around 500 Afghan troops.

Several MPs have expressed their concern at news that Belgian paratroopers were involved in the ground offensive against rebels in Afghanistan. However, the Belgian Defence Minister Pieter De Crem (Flemish Christian Democrat) has dismissed the criticism, adding that the Belgian troops are only training Afghan soldiers and weren’t actively taking part in the fighting.

The Afghans are involved in an offensive against Taliban  rebels in the region.

The Defence Department stresses that no Belgian or Afghan troops have been injured in the offensive, in which weapons have been seized.

A number of rebels have also been detained.

However, a number of MPs have said that it was never the intention for Belgian troops to be deployed as part of an offensive.

"This is not acceptable"

The Flemish socialist MP Dirk Van der Maelen claims that he had received reassurances from the Defence Minister that our troops would not be involved in any ground offensives.

"Mr De Crem had explained things very differently.

"I think that it’s unacceptable that he says one thing, yet does another.”

The Flemish Greens also plan to question De Crem on the issue during the next meeting of the Defence Select Committee.

Meanwhile, the Flemish liberal Hilde Vautmans has asked for more clarity on the tasks being carried out by Belgian paratroopers in Kunduz and what measures are being taken to ensure their safety.

Vautmans' party is part of the federal coalition.

Defence minister in Afghanistan

The Belgian Defence Minister Pieter De Crem and the Belgian Army’s Chief of Staff Charles-Henri Delcour arrived in Afghanistan on Wednesday morning.

They will visit the Belgian military advisers in Kunduz before visiting the Belgian troops stationed in Kabul and Kandahar.

Speaking on arrival in Afghanistan, De Crem told journalists that the paratroopers have acted within their remit.

He added that a distinction must be made between the volatile south of Afghanistan and the relatively calm of north of the country.

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