Dutch police trainers to quit Afghanistan earlier: Rutte

Dutch military trainers will withdraw earlier than planned from their mission in war-torn Afghanistan's Kunduz province, Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced Friday, saying local forces were ready to take over.

"We have decided to end the training mission on July 1," Rutte told journalists at his weekly post-cabinet press conference.

"The Afghans are ready sooner than planned to take responsibility for police training in Kunduz," he said.

Rutte stressed some 200 other members of the 545-strong Dutch deployment in Afghanistan will remain as planned until next year, mainly at the northern base of Mazar-e-Sharif, where four Dutch F-16 fighter planes are stationed.

The jets are used to find roadside bombs and boost security on the ground.

Around 1,950 Dutch troops were deployed in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), mainly in the central Uruzgan province, for four years until their withdrawal in August 2010 after a mission that claimed the lives of 24 Dutch soldiers.

The withdrawal was sparked by a political row back in the Netherlands over the troops' continuous deployment to the conflict-ridden area.

But Dutch lawmakers in early 2011 endorsed a proposal to send a new group of military personnel to Afghanistan including the police trainers, who arrived there in June of that year.

The bulk of NATO's 100,000 combat soldiers are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but many Afghans remain uncertain about the country's future.

More than 3,200 NATO soldiers have died in Afghanistan since 2001.