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After deriding the Dutch mission to Afghanistan, the US now holds it up as an example.
On the streets of Amsterdam, there is pride in the work the soldiers have done in Uruzgan, but opinions are very much divided about whether the time has come for the troops to come home.
“We did our duty and now it’s enough,” said Gerard Gruppen, an educational administrator. “Afghanistan must look after itself.”
“They should leave, I was against the war in Afghanistan, the U.N. made a wrong decision going there,” contended Elise van Alphen, a Ph.D. student.
“They have to stay,” countered bookseller Eric Klee. “In Uruzgan, they are doing a good job … so I think it would be a shame to pull out now.”
Those divisions are reflected inside the Dutch government. Balkenende and many in his Christian Democratic Appeal party would like the troops to stay, but its coalition partners in the Labor Party and the conservative Christian Union say they should leave.
The U.S. and other nations are making high-level efforts to sway the decision. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called Dutch Labor Party leader Wouter Bos last week and the U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder — himself of Dutch descent — led a delegation that visited the troops at Camp Holland outside Tirin Kot recently. Appeals for the Dutch to stay have also come from the British and Australians.
But Dutch political insiders think that Balkenende has little room to maneuver and contend that the most NATO can hope for is that the Dutch will agree to keep a contingent of troops somewhere else in Afghanistan after they withdraw from Uruzgan.
"The chances are very small that the Dutch will continue in Uruzgan,” said Hans van Baalen, a member of the European Parliament representing the liberal opposition Freedom and Democracy party. “They will probably stay in Afghanistan.”