Dutch government falls in dispute over Afghan mission

The Netherlands‘ coalition government collapsed Feb. 19 after the two largest parties failed to agree on whether to withdraw Dutch troops from Afghanistan later this year, as had been planned. The cabinet of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende fell apart following 16 hours of talks in The Hague. Balkenende’s Christian Democrat Appeal (CDA) had pushed for keeping a reduced force in Afghanistan for a year past the August 2010 deadline. This was met with opposition from the Labour Party of deputy prime minister Wouter Bos, the deputy prime minister. “A plan was agreed to when our soldiers went to Afghanistan. Our partners in the government didn’t want to stick to that plan, and on the basis of their refusal we have decided to resign from this government,” Bos said.

The Dutch mission, based in central Uruzgan province, began in August 2006 and involves 1,906 troops. Since then, 21 Dutch soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan. The Dutch troops share their base at Tarin Kowt with Australia‘s contingent—but Australia has expressed reluctance to assume command of the post. James Appathurai, the NATO spokesperson in Brussels, said that the Dutch decision would not harm the alliance’s operations in Afghanistan. “Its obviously a complication, but it is nothing that we couldn’t foresee coming,” he told AlJazeera. “We have 44 countries in this coaltion… No matter what happens we will manage, we have plenty of countries, plenty of forces.” (AlJazeera, SMH, Feb. 20)

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