Should they stay or should they go?

Should they stay or should they go?

24th November 2008, Comments 0 comments

It's a question many in Dutch politics thought had been answered last year. The issue is Dutch military involvement in Afghanistan.

The Netherlands first sent soldiers to the southern province of Uruzgan back in the summer of 2006. They committed to two years as part of NATO's I-Saf mission. 

Dutch mission: another extension? 
Last year, after much wrangling, the mission was extended another two years. Now, the question is coming up again.

MP Alexander Pechtold is leader of the opposition party Democrat 66. During a debate in parliament on Wednesday, he expressed his concern:

"I have a double déja vu here: of the previous extension and of the initial deployment. Just listen carefully to the words which the minister used. Let me quote: 'Then this mission will be over.' He doesn't say the troops will have gone by then. Am I hearing this correctly, Your Honourable, that the troops won't have left?"
Injured troops at a memorial service for Dutch soldier who died in Afghanistan © Flickr by david_axe

Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen chose his words very carefully, and said the taskforce Uruzgan would end in 2010.

Leaving open the possibility that Dutch troops will stay longer in another capacity. 

Not so careful
Earlier, a member of Minister Verhagen's party was not so careful. MP Maarten Haverkamp said in parliament that there was no question Dutch forces would leave completely in 2010.

So why is this debate coming back now?

US President-elect Barack Obama says he is going to focus on defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Part of his strategy involves sending more soldiers to Afghanistan.

Officials across Europe are trying to figure out how to respond to the request for more NATO troops, even before the question is formally asked.

But asked it will be.

A gun from the Panzer Howitzer platoon - Kamp Holland © Flickr david_axe
Pakistani Ahmed Rashid is an expert on the Taliban. He's long been critical of the western approach to Afghanistan, and is currently advising Barack Obama.

He spoke to Dutch television during a recent visit to the Netherlands:

"He wants a surge in Afghanistan. Now, I think he also understands that a surge is not just troops. It's a comprehensive surge. More resources, money, development, nation building, building up the army. So you need many things happening at the same time inside Afghanistan. Plus, more troops."
So President-elect Obama may be asking the Netherlands for more troops even before the current mission expires in 2010.

Ahmed Rashid says the Dutch army simply doesn't have the resources to fulfil such a request.

Others say a new strategy involving a comprehensive surge won't work.

New strategy 
MP Harry van Bommel does foreign policy for the Socialist Party:
"The new strategy is not really new. It's going to be more of the same. More troops, more violence, more civilian casualties, and that's not going to work. Today we hear president Karzai saying that he wants to negotiate with the leadership of the Taliban, he named Mullah Omar. That would be a new strategy. They need to be affiliated with the process of re-building Afghanistan. We cannot do it without the Taliban, because the Taliban is formed partly by the people of Afghanistan."
Dutch air force AH-64D Apache at Tarin Kowt  © Flickr by david_axe
Van Bommel says the only way he could see Dutch soldiers staying in Afghanistan after 2010 is if a peace deal has been reached with the Taliban.

Right now, that doesn't seem very likely. 

But calls for negotiating with the Taliban are increasing, and President-elect 
Obama has a knack for pulling off the impossible.

At any rate, it looks like the Netherlands should already get used to the idea: some Dutch soldiers are likely to stay in Afghanistan even after the current mission is over in 2010.
Parts of Afghanistan safe, but for how long? 
One region of Afghanistan where conditions for people appear to be relatively stable is the Deh Rawood area of Uruzgan. Limited Taliban activity there has allowed aid agencies to work relatively unhindered. One such agency is the Dutch funded, Social Association for Development of Afghanistan (SADA).

Radio Netherlands' Ikenna Azuike spoke to the official Civil representative of The Netherlands in Uruzgan, Peter Mollema, pictured below, to find out what progress SADA has made in Uruzgan.

"We have rebuilt about 550 houses that were destroyed by combat activities in 2007. I think that this has been a successful reintegration project bringing refugees back home. We have had no major security incidents. Yes, we have had some exploding devices and we have had a suicide attack. But, we have not had major combat activities in this particular area. So, compared to 2007 we have made big steps forward. [...] NGOs like SADA [and] others are able to expand their activities. 

But we will have to be here for years to come. We have to undertake a lot of development activities. The Afghan government will have to undertake a lot of activities in order to create very good living conditions for the people. So, let's not kid ourselves that we think that in one or two years time we will have done enough."

John Tayler
Radio Netherlands
Photo credit: David_exe

0 Comments To This Article