Canada wants NL to stay in Afghanistan

12th June 2007, Comments 0 comments

12 June 2007, TORONTO (AP) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Dutch counterpart discussed extending the Netherlands' mission in Afghanistan beyond 2008, Harper said.

12 June 2007

TORONTO (AP) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Dutch counterpart discussed extending the Netherlands' mission in Afghanistan beyond 2008, Harper said.

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende told Harper during a meeting in Ottawa on Monday that his government will decide in August whether to extend the troops' two-year mandate.

The Netherlands has nearly 2,000 troops on a reconstruction mission in southern Afghanistan and Canada has about 2,500 soldiers there.

Canada is concerned that it, along with those from the U.S., Britain and the Netherlands, are the only NATO countries sending forces to fight the Taliban in the most violent areas in the south. Other NATO-contributing countries, such as Germany, France and Italy, restrict the use of their forces to relatively peaceful areas of the north.

"The Prime Minister was clear to me on his feelings on the matter and the process by which the Netherlands will take its decisions this summer," Harper said.

"We share similar considerations, similar evaluations and similar concerns. I obviously will not pressure the Prime Minister publicly, but I'll just say we have valued tremendously the cooperation with the Netherlands in southern Afghanistan."

Harper has repeatedly hinted that Canadian troops may have to stay in Afghanistan beyond a mandate that ends in 2009.

But Canadians have become increasingly concerned about the mission in Afghanistan because of a mounting death toll and reports that troops might be an accomplice to torture. Harper's Conservatives have lost some support according to recent polls.

Fifty-seven Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have been killed thus far in Afghanistan. Opposition lawmakers have been pushing for a troop withdrawal.

Balkenende said the two leaders discussed the need for other NATO partners to do more in the south.

"We can't allow it to become a failed state again," said Balkenende, who also called for a larger Afghan army and police force.

Balkenende said he will consult closely with Canada before his government decides whether to stay on.

"We are close partners in the south. I expressed my deep sympathy for the loss of 56 Canadians lives in Afghanistan. Your grief touches us too," Balkenende said.

Six Dutch soldiers have died in Afghanistan since the government sent troops to Uruzgan last August. One died from a roadside bomb, three died in aviation accidents, another in an armoured car crash and another in an apparent suicide.

[Copyright AP 2007]

Subject: Dutch news

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