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Friday 19 December  
Netherlands - first NATO member to leave Afghanistan
Hans de Vreij's picture
Uruzgan, Afghanistan
Uruzgan, Afghanistan

Netherlands - first NATO member to leave Afghanistan

Published on : 1 August 2010 - 7:00am | By Hans de Vreij (Photo: RNW)
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The Netherlands is the first member of NATO to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan. For four years it was the International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) lead nation in the Afghan province of Uruzgan. On Sunday, this responsibility will be handed over to the US and Australia.

The Dutch are the first to withdraw, breaking the solidarity among NATO states. All NATO countries have troops in Afghanistan and they will be anything but pleased with the Dutch move. NATO, however, remains a military alliance of sovereign states and that sovereignty implies that a member state may choose to no longer take part in a mission.

Cabinet crisis

The “Uruzgan issue” brought down the Dutch government in February. The Labour Party (PvdA), one of the partners in a three-way coalition government, was opposed to a further extension of the Afghan mission and withdrew its ministers from the cabinet. A new government has yet to be formed. In theory, it is possible that the Netherlands will ultimately grant a NATO request to launch a new mission to train Afghan army and police personnel. Whether or not this will materialise remains, for the time being at least, pure conjecture. It will depend on the political complexion of the new cabinet.

Since February, Uruzgan has more or less disappeared from the Dutch parliamentary agenda. Even back in 2006, when the decision to join NATO's ISAF mission was taken, Labour politicians had difficulty selling it to their rank-and-file. This led to the Netherlands’ participation being presented as a “reconstruction mission”.

There are only indirect references to the word “reconstruction” in ISAF's mandate. The force's core remit is to boost security in Afghanistan. While in some countries it was the death toll among service personnel that sparked sometimes fierce debate, in the Netherlands the discussion centred on the contrived distinction between “reconstruction mission” and “combat mission”.

Popular support

In 2006, Dutch popular support for the mission in Uruzgan was never particularly strong. Opinions on the issue differed widely from the outset, but, as the mission dragged on, the level of opposition rose to 41 percent of the population in July 2010, with 33 percent supporting the mission and 27 percent undecided.

Heavily armed
Such a heavily armed Dutch force had not been deployed abroad since the Korean War in the 1950s. From the beginning of their mission, Dutch soldiers from Task Force Uruzgan were involved in combat with Taliban rebels, foreign insurgents and local militias. In June 2007 the entire Dutch battalion was deployed to fight in the “Battle of Chora”, a fact that was kept top secret at the time. The Netherlands and its allies Australia, the US and the Afghan army had too few troops to cover the whole province and the use of the entire battalion in a single operation meant that other areas were of necessity left exposed and vulnerable to attack.

Although it has not been said in so many words, the departure from Uruzgan will not do much for the Netherlands’ reputation within NATO. It puts paid to any idealistic notion of “we’re all in this together”. From Washington’s perspective, there is another aspect to consider: not a single European NATO ally has been ready or willing to plug the gap left by the Dutch, leaving the US with no choice but to step into the breach.

Only time will tell if the Netherlands will once again shoulder the responsibility of a major mission on the scale of its role in Afghanistan. However, the likelihood does not seem great. Public opinion and most of the country’s political parties are not well disposed towards the prospect. The Dutch armed forces have let it be known that, after four years in the front lines, they need a breathing space. The facts also speak for themselves: neither NATO, nor the European Union have any plans at the ready to conduct a mission like the one in Afghanistan elsewhere in the world.

  • Flags of Camp Holland, Uruzgan<br>&copy; Photo: RNW/Hans de Vreij -
  • Dutch soldier with Afghan child<br>&copy; Photo: RNW/Hans de Vreij -
  • A Dutch windmill in Afghanistan<br>&copy; Photo: RNW/Hans de Vreij -
  • Dutch F-16<br>&copy; Photo: Dutch Ministry of Defence -
  • Dutch PzH2000 Howitzer<br>&copy; Photo: Dutch Ministry of Defence -


Dominichow 7 February 2011 - 1:33am / United States


Anonymous 17 August 2010 - 6:59am / USA

I fully support the Netherlands in their decision to withdraw from Afganistan. I only wish our own government were so wise. Let us at least hope the exit timetable will be kept.
Kevin Morrison
Huntington Beach, California

Anonymous 3 August 2010 - 7:34am

sad to say its the same old dutch....may as well withdraw from there a Holland left or are there mostly muslims living there now? the West is dead....

Anonymous 2 August 2010 - 7:45pm / Lalaland

There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare!

Hiram2 2 August 2010 - 10:16pm / usa

LaLaland, you are right! Only the military industries and the thousands of workers throughout the world who build the weapons benefit from warfare. Greed is the cause and effect of wars, prisons, and monthly payments to ex-wives.

Anonymous 2 August 2010 - 3:18pm / Lalaland

The Netherlands is showing the way that long term occupation of a foreign country will lead in the end to disaster. Stop being a sitting duck, and let commandos, special forces, and local troops take out the bad guys, the destructive, criminal elements and their leaders.

Satish Chandra 2 August 2010 - 2:59am / U.S.A.

I am India's expert in strategic defence and the father of India's strategic program, including the Integrated Guided Missiles Development Program. I have shown in my blog titled 'Nuclear Supremacy For India Over U.S.', which can be found by a Google search with the title, that all terrorism and insurgencies in the Indian subcontinent and in much of the rest of the world is sponsored by the C.I.A. Both Pakistan's ISI and India's RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) function as branches of the C.I.A. and participate in terrorism and insurgencies throughout the Subcontinent, under direction of the C.I.A. Yes, the ISI secretly supports the Taliban but it does so under direction from the C.I.A. whose modus operandi is support for ALL sides of a conflict to control the course of the conflict in service of its own goals. The goal of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and partial occupation of Pakistan is eventual occupation and overt colonial rule over the Subcontinent as a whole. This will not be permitted and all those participating in this enterprise, including the U.K., will be duly punished; see my blog. The document leak currently in the news has been made in preparation for abandonment of this goal and withdrawal from Afghanistan because of steps I have already taken for the nuclear destruction of New Delhi and then the coast-to-coast destruction of the United States by India with 5,000 thermonuclear warheads and extermination of its population; see my blog.

Anonymous 3 August 2010 - 7:36am

cuckoo, cuckoo.....i think you should seek mental suffer from delusions of grandeur...

Joe 2 August 2010 - 1:31am / USA

Thank you for your contributions. Your soldiers fought beside ours and you have paid dearly in blood and treasure for many years on the battlefield. We honor your sacrifice and your fallen and thank you for all your many years of help.

Hiram2 1 August 2010 - 2:46pm / USA

"In theory, it is possible that the Netherlands will ultimately grant a NATO request to launch a new mission to train Afghan army and police personnel. Whether or not this will materialise remains, for the time being at least, pure conjecture.".........How can you teach someone police and military tactics, when you lack the ability and resolve to finish a job. In reality, the Dutch government is correct in one way. Why fight a war against an enemy with your hands tied by a code of conduct that allows the enemy to use whatever tactics and you are restricted from fighting back? The Dutch were right in withdrawing their military. They have an excellent military!

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