PM Balkenende on unannounced visit to Afghanistan
Mission of Dutch troops in Uruzgan uncertain after 2010 scheduled withdrawal date.
THE HAGUE—Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and Deputy Defence Minister Jack de Vries have paid an unannounced two-day visit to Afghanistan. Their trip was kept secret for security reasons.
It was the third visit to Camp Holland in Uruzgan province for both men since Dutch troops were first deployed there in 2006. At present, about 1,770 Dutch soldiers are serving in Afghanistan as part of NATO's International Security Assistance Force.
Balkenende refused to rule out Dutch forces continuing to work on reconstruction in Uruzgan after their present mandate ends in 2010. However, in an interview with Radio Netherlands Worldwide, he said it still had to be decided how the work should be continued after that date.
The possibility of the Dutch ISAF mission being extended beyond 2010 is a hot political topic in the Netherlands. Opposition politicians accuse the government of reneging on what they see as a commitment to withdraw Dutch troops in 2010.
On Monday, Balkenende and de Vries held talks with regional commander Major General Mart de Kruif at the ISAF base near Kandahar after which they flew on to Camp Holland. Dutch Major General de Kruif commands the 23,000 NATO troops in southern Afghanistan who are soon to be joined by over 20,000 US soldiers.