Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Dutch won't get fooled again

In a few weeks time, the Dutch Parliament will vote on whether to send troops to Afghanistan. The move is part of a NATO deployment to cover the partial withdrawal of US forces. But there's a sticking point: the Dutch Parliament isn't as keen to put their troops in harm's way, and the coalition tensions could cause the fall of the Dutch government.

Both the opposition Green and Socialist parties are firmly against deployment. but more significantly, so is the liberal D66 party, which is currently part of the ruling coalition. The chief concern is that while the troops would officially be engaged in reconstruction work, they would be doing so in Uruzgan province - one of Afghanistan's most dangerous areas, and effectively a war zone. There are also concerns about "mission creep" - being dragged from reconstruction work into destroying opium crops, or worse, outright combat operations against Taleban forces as part of America's "Operation Enduring Freedom". While the Dutch may want to help Afghanistan (and they're already doing exactly that as a significant contributor to the ISAF mission), there's simply no appetite to become embroiled in what one politician has called "an American war under a Nato flag".

It's difficult to escape the conclusion that America's mishandling of Iraq is playing a role here. The Dutch were among the first to volunteer for the postwar reconstruction of Iraq, sending 1200 troops; they lost two soldiers and a civilian engineer when "peacekeeping" turned to combat. Having been burned once by the Americans, they don't seem to want to get burned again. And who can really blame them?