NATO meets in Noordwijk

23rd October 2007, Comments 0 comments

23 October 2007, AMSTERDAM (dpa) - Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and defence ministers of several non-NATO countries are due to convene Wednesday and Thursday in the Dutch town of Noordwijk to discuss keeping forces in Afghanistan at full strength.

23 October 2007

AMSTERDAM (dpa) - Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and defence ministers of several non-NATO countries are due to convene Wednesday and Thursday in the Dutch town of Noordwijk to discuss keeping forces in Afghanistan at full strength.

With 40,000 of its International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops in Afghanistan, NATO wants to increase visible success and decrease the number of military and civilian casualties in this its biggest mission ever.

Among the problems to be tackled are ISAF's structural lack of transportation capacity as well as the lack of a common drugs policy.

For the Netherlands, which contributes some 1,650 troops to ISAF, a "more balanced division of the burden" is crucial for its continued participation in ISAF, Dutch Defence Ministry spokesman Roger van der Wetering told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

The Dutch have been stationed in the southern province of Uruzgan since August 2006. The mission is due to end in 2008, but NATO has requested the Dutch to extend their mission.

Within the Netherlands however extension is a controversial topic.

The lack of visible success and a rising military death toll - 11 Dutch soldiers have been killed so far - contribute to the unpopularity of the mission.

According to several polls conducted recently, public support for an extension is less than 30 percent among the whole population and less than 16 percent among people aged 25 and younger.

Military experts in the Netherlands however have pointed out that ISAF can only be successful if it can be active in Afghanistan for a prolonged period of time.

These experts argue the Dutch will have to stay in Uruzgan until they have found a successor.

An official Dutch decision has not yet been made.

Dutch media recently reported that in a classified recommendation to the government Dutch General Dick Berlijn argued in favour of extending the mission another two years. At the same time, he wanted the number of troops to be reduced from 1,650 to 1,250.

According to van der Wetering, a way to increase the number of available NATO troops to missions like ISAF is to make the emergency force NATO Response Force (NRF) more flexible.

Consisting of 25,000 troops contributed by all 26 NATO members on a six-month rotation, the NRF can be dispatched in emergency situations within 24 hours, van der Wetering said. So far, this has only happened twice during natural disasters in Pakistan and the city of New Orleans.

Van der Wetering said that "with ISAF requiring more troops, it has become increasingly difficult to get sufficient troops for the NRF. At the same time, one should ask whether it is necessary to have all 25,000 troops on standby."

He added chances were likely the NRF would be transformed into a more flexible force, with a core group of troops ready to be dispatched immediately, and a reserve group to follow gradually at a later stage.

But realizing increased flexibility for the NRF and NATO's special missions, including ISAF, cannot be done without broader international cooperation, he said.

That is why the Netherlands has requested that representatives of the European Union, the United Nations and the World Bank participate at the informal summit - a novelty for NATO.

Meanwhile security measures in the tourist town of Noordwijk have been stepped up.

The four locations in the town where all meetings will be held have been transformed into a "military compound" that no one can enter or exit without military police permission.

The beach has been closed to the public since late September, and a minesweeper will be guarding the coast.

Lovers of military equipment will however find Noordwijk the place to be this week, as the Dutch Defence Ministry has placed a collection of military equipment, including F-16 fighter aircraft, on display along the coastal promenade.

[Copyright dpa 2007]

Subject: Dutch news

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