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Page last updated at 12:56 GMT, Sunday, 21 February 2010

Dutch troops 'to leave Afghanistan as planned' - PM

Dutch soldiers patrol in Chora valley in the southern Uruzgan province.
The Dutch troops were to have returned in 2008

A day after his cabinet collapsed, the Dutch prime minister says he expects Dutch troops to end their mission in Afghanistan in August as expected.

"If nothing else will take its place, then it ends," Jan Peter Balkenende told Dutch television.

The cabinet fell after the two largest parties failed to agree on a Nato request to extend the tour of the almost 2,000-strong Dutch contingent.

A Nato spokesman said it would provide support to Afghans whatever happened.

The uncertainty over their deployment comes as Nato, US and Afghan forces are engaged in a large military offensive against the Taliban in neighbouring Helmand.

The governor of Uruzgan province said peace and reconstruction efforts would suffer a setback if the Dutch left.

Asadullah Hamdam told the BBC they were playing a vital role building roads, training the Afghan police and providing security for civilians.

"If they withdraw and leave these projects incomplete, then they will leave a big vacuum," he added.

Map

Dutch troops have been stationed in Afghanistan since 2006.

They should have returned home in 2008, but their deployment was extended by two years because no other Nato member state offered replacements.

In October, the Dutch parliament voted that the deployment must definitely end by August 2010.

Mr Balkenende's government had not endorsed that vote, and the finance minister and leader of the Labour Party, Wouter Bos, demanded an immediate ruling from the prime minister.

When they failed to reach a compromise during marathon talks that continued into the early hours of Saturday, Labour said it was pulling out of the coalition.

Later, Mr Balkenende said there was no common ground and offered his cabinet's resignation to Queen Beatrix by telephone.

Deadly place

The launch in 2001 of Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) for Afghanistan was the organisation's first and largest ground operation outside Europe.

As of October 2009, Isaf had more than 71,000 personnel from 42 different countries including the US, Canada, European countries, Australia, Jordan and New Zealand.

The US provides the bulk of foreign forces in Afghanistan, and President Barack Obama has announced an extra 30,000 American troops for Afghanistan.

The Pentagon has said the next 18 months could prove crucial for the international mission in Afghanistan, after more than eight years of efforts to stabilise the country.

Afghanistan remains a deadly place for foreign forces.

Suicide attacks on Afghan civilians and roadside bomb strikes on international troops are common, with the Taliban strongly resurgent in many areas of the country.



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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
Times Online Afghans want Nato out after civilian death toll - 7 hrs ago
Financial TimesAfghan civilians killed in Nato airstrike - 8 hrs ago
Time Dutch Government Collapses Over Afghanistan Troop Exit - 13 hrs ago
NRC HandelsbladDutch shatter Nato's unity in Afghanistan - 14 hrs ago
News24.com Dutch queen to meet officials - 16 hrs ago
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