Dutch MPs endorse Afghan police training mission

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Lawmakers in the Netherlands on Friday endorsed a cabinet decision to send police trainers to Afghanistan, six months after Dutch troops withdrew from the conflict-torn nation.

In a heated debate that continued into the early morning hours, a slim majority of MPs voted for the minority government's proposal to send 545 men and women to Afghanistan until 2014.

A rightist governing coalition of the liberal VVD party and the Christian Democrats, which have a joint 52 seats of 150 in parliament, had to make several concessions to win over opposition parties.

Notably, it swayed the liberal greens, GroenLinks with 10 seats, by agreeing to seek a written guarantee from Kabul that police trained by the Dutch would not be used in any military action.

"We need to be sure that if we train people as police members, they are indeed deployed as police members," Prime Minister Mark Rutte told the MPs in a debate broadcast live on national television.

"We want a letter from the government (in Kabul). If it transpires that people are not keeping to the agreement, there will be a system of sanctions," he said, adding that if this also failed, "I will propose to end the mission."

The cabinet decision to send a team mainly to Kunduz to train "thousands" of Afghan police members, came nearly a year after the last, centre-left Dutch government collapsed in a spat over continued military deployment to the conflict-torn nation.

About 1,950 Dutch troops were deployed in Afghanistan as part of the ISAF force, mainly in the central Uruzgan province, for four years until last August in a mission that claimed the lives of 24 Dutch soldiers.

NATO's request for an extension of the Dutch presence sparked a political row that caused the government's collapse in February last year, precipitating the troops' pullout.

Rutte's government has a deal with the anti-Islam Party for Freedom (PVV) for the support of its 24 MPs to pass laws through parliament in return for a say in policy formation.

But the PVV opposes the Afghan training mission, obliging the premier to obtain the support of a number of smaller opposition parties.

There are about 140,000 international troops in Afghanistan, mostly Americans, fighting an insurgency spearheaded by the Taliban, ousted from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

The new Dutch mission would include 225 police trainers in Kabul, Kunduz and Bamiyan, as well as military personnel providing medical and logistics support.

The Dutch would also deploy four F16 fighter jets to find roadside bombs and boost security on the ground.

Rutte said the Dutch team's security would be ensured by troops from Germany, the lead ISAF nation in Kunduz.

"The world has made a commitment to Afghanistan; we cannot now suddenly leave it to its own devices," the premier said in response to parties opposed to the deployment.

© 2011 AFP

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