Obama hopes Netherlands will continue Afghan mission

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US President Barack Obama praises the Dutch military as one of the most outstanding militaries which have effectively pursued successful strategies in Afghanistan.

Washington – President Barack Obama said Tuesday he hoped the Netherlands would continue its participation in NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, which are fighting to defeat the resurgent Taliban.

"I recognise that participation in the coalition in Afghanistan can be controversial in the Netherlands," Obama said after talks at the White House with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende.

"What I shared with the prime minister was the hope that even after next summer that there is the ability for the Dutch to continue to apply the leadership and the experience that they've been able to accumulate over these past years."

Nearly 2,000 Dutch soldiers are deployed in Afghanistan, mostly in Uruzgan, as part of a NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Their mission is set to expire in 2010.

Nineteen Dutch soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since 2006.

Obama said he and Balkenende "discussed the critical role that the Netherlands has played in Afghanistan as part of the ISAF operation there".

Obama said the US strategy review in Afghanistan that "emphasised the three D's of development, diplomacy, as well our ability to deploy troops effectively – that really was adopted from some strategies that had already been pursued effectively by the Netherlands.

"The Dutch military has been one of the most outstanding militaries there, has shown extraordinary not only military capacity, but also insight into the local culture and the local politics," he said.

For his part, Balkenende said he and Obama "share the same values" and had discussed human rights, the financial crisis, and the issues of energy and climate change.

"So I'm convinced we have so many things in common, we can work together. You already mentioned our work in Afghanistan, a complicated and dangerous area, but we also think that it's important to work there together," the Dutch premier said.

During the question and answer session, Balkenende mentioned his country's decision to "stop as lead nation" in Uruzgan, where Dutch troops are concentrated.

"But it's also good to underline that the Netherlands will not turn its back on the Afghan people," he added.

"We feel also responsibility. We will go on with ... cooperation, if there are requests we will consider them seriously."

Obama said that after the August presidential election in Afghanistan, "My hope is that we will be able to begin transitioning into a different phase in Afghanistan.

"I think that all of us want to see an effective exit strategy where increasingly the Afghan army, Afghan police, Afghan courts, Afghan government are taking more responsibility for their own security," Obama said.

Obama, who has made the war in Afghanistan a top priority of his administration, said "the issue in Afghanistan is not simply an American issue, it is a worldwide issue."

Obama "knows full well" that the Dutch were leaving Uruzgan in 2010, "and that is something that has been decided a long time ago." said Floris van Hovell, spokesperson at the Dutch embassy in Washington.

However "it has always been our intention, and that's also our will, to stay, and continue investing in Afghanistan, the development of Afghanistan, and also in the security in Afghanistan," Van Hovell said.

AFP / Expatica

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