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US, NATO want Dutch to stay in Afghanistan

After deriding the Dutch mission to Afghanistan, the US now holds it up as an example.

“Much of what we have come up with is modeled on what the Dutch have done,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters at a NATO meeting in December.

“The Dutch forces in Afghanistan came up with the model of the three Ds: defense, diplomacy and development,” she said. “They were ahead of us. The results they got demonstrated the effectiveness of their approach. So, of course, we would like to see the Dutch continue.”

Leaders from the U.S. and other allies have been cranking up pressure in an effort to persuade Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende to maintain the troops based in Uruzgan for at least another year, in line with the Obama administration’s goal of beginning a draw-down in mid-2011.

The 2007 Dutch parliament vote that called for the troops to leave Uruzgan is not legally binding on the government, but Balkenende would need to get a parliamentary majority to extend the mission beyond the lawmakers’ schedule, which calls for the withdrawal to begin in August and end by Dec. 1.

However many in the Netherlands feel it is time for the troops to come home.

“Dutch public opinion feels really bad about it, they don't want the Dutch to be in Afghanistan,” said Sahar Janish, a Dutch journalist of Afghan origin. “They say it's just a filthy war and we are just doing what America wants from us and our soldiers are dying, our sons and daughters are dying and we don't see any benefit from it.”

When NATO decided in December 2005 to expand its peacekeeping mission into the Taliban’s southern heartlands, the Netherlands agreed, along with the British, Canadians and Americans, to take the lead role in one of the four volatile southern provinces brought into the alliance mission.

It was a tough task for a small nation. But for many in the Netherlands’ military the mission was a chance to re-establish its reputation a decade after Dutch soldiers serving in Bosnia with the United Nations in 1995 handed over the “safe haven” of Srebrenica to Bosnian Serb militiamen who went on to massacre 7,000 Muslim men and boys.

Dutch officers point out that they have been in more than 1,000 fire fights in Uruzgan, with the loss of 21 soldiers — including Lt. Dennis van Uhm, the 23-year-old son of the country’s armed forces commander. However while they are ready to take on Taliban hardliners, they say setting out to kill poor farm boys hired to be the militants’ part-time foot soldiers is counter-productive — especially when they can instead be persuaded to lay down their arms.