Dutch military prop up dubious Kabul regime, union says
Dutch servicemen's unions are deeply divided over their approach to the Dutch military mission in Afghanistan.
AFMP chairman Wim van den Burg said that an extension of the Uruzgan mission after 2010 is not an option as far as the union is concerned. He said that Dutch troops should not "help an Afghan government which is making a mess of things. We are supporting the very dubious government of President Hamid Karzai, who is driving the islamic country back to the Middle Ages."
According to the union, the Kabul regime has flaunted the international rule of law by passing misogynistic legislation, supporting controversial warlords and restricting the freedom of the press. Van den Burg assured the military personnel currently in Afghanistan of the union's unconditional support, but emphasised that a continuation of the mission after 2010 was out of the question.
Should unions stay out of politics?
The call for an end to the mission is in contravention of rules laid down by Euromil, an association of 32 defence unions in Europe, including AFMP. "Democratic military associations do not interfere in matters of domestic or foreign policy, neither in defence strategy nor in operational decisions," Euromil says on its website.
The other unions representing Dutch defence workers, ACOM and VMB/NOV, criticised their AFMP comrades for their "politicking".
ACOM chairman Jan Kleian says that relatives of servicemen killed on duty in Afghanistan are outraged about AFMP's campaign. "To the bereaved, such remarks sound as if their son died for no good reason."
Kleian told Radio Netherlands Worldwide:
"We as servicemen's unions should not become involved in politics in this way. Dutch politicians decided to send the military to Afghanistan, and once there is a decision, then so be it. Moreover, we have an expeditional force, and even if we didn't go to Afghanistan, we would go to Africa and there we would encounter regimes of the same calibre. You can't avoid that.
The majority of our members say, we're not in Afghanistan for its politicians, we're there for the population. If we were there for the regime it would be different, but we are there to give the people a better life. "
But so far, Kleian's plea for realism appears to have fallen on deaf ears with AFMP.
Military trade unions
The AFMP is one of the largest military trade unions and is a member of the Dutch Federation of Trade Unions, FNV. The other main unions for defence workers are ACOM and VMB/NOV. Like any other group of employees in the Netherlands, defence personnel have the right to form trade unions.
"An improper discussion"
Dutch Defence Minister Eimert van Middelkoop says the decision to station troops in Afghanistan received ample consideration and was a responsible one.
Referring to the AFMP chairman's plea to pull out of Afghanistan, Deputy Defence Minister Jack de Vries said,
"I think it is an incomphrehensible and untimely remark. Bear in mind that we'll be active there until August 2010. AFMP has agreed that the mission should run its course. We've got some time to go, with our men and women doing difficult work on the ground. When the chairman of a big military union now says it's actually a pointless mission, even referring to the number of casualties there, then they're not giving our people the homefront support they deserve, and need, to do their work."
ISAF and the Dutch
ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force, has some 50,000 personnel on the ground in Afghanistan. About 1900 of them are Dutch. Since the beginning of the mission, 21 Dutch servicemen have been killed.
But AFMP is not letting off, a defiant statement on their website shows. Reacting to Deputy Defence Minister Jack de Vries's anger as expressed in a Twitter message, the union says,
"Especially for Jack, we repeat our position in simple terms: AFMP/FNV is not in favour of continuing the fairytale that is called Afghanistan. As a union we are confronted with the fallout of the war on a daily basis, and we're acting on that. And that is exactly the opposite of what De Vries is falsely suggesting."