The Netherlands has ended
its military mission in Afghanistan, after four years in which its 1,950 troops
have won praise for their effectiveness.
Dutch military chief Gen
Peter van Uhm said security had improved in Uruzgan province during the Dutch
But he acknowledged that “a
lot still has to happen” after the withdrawal.
Nato has played down its
significance, but analysts say this is a sensitive time for the alliance, with
growing casualties and doubts about strategy.
Dutch command was formally
handed over to the US and Australia in a small ceremony on Sunday at the main
military base in Uruzgan – where most Dutch soldiers have been deployed.
The Dutch ministry of
defence told the BBC that while its military mission in Afghanistan had ended,
a redeployment task force would stay on to oversee the return of vehicles,
military hardware and equipment to the Netherlands.
Four F16 jets, three
Chinooks and five Apaches from the Dutch air force were expected to remain in
Afghanistan until the end of the year.
“Dutch forces have served
with distinction in Uruzgan, and we honour their sacrifice and that of their
Afghan counterparts during the Netherlands’ tenure in the province,” said a
statement from the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Nato had wanted the
Netherlands to extend its mission, but the request triggered a political row
which brought down the country’s coalition government in February.
This sent shock waves
through other European countries, particularly Germany, where public opposition
to the war is growing.
More than 145,000 foreign
troops currently operate under US and Nato command in Afghanistan and are
supporting its Western-backed government against a Taliban-led insurgency that
has gained strength.
Having supplied just a small
percentage of Nato forces, the Dutch pull-out will not make a significant
military difference, says the BBC’s David Loyn in Kabul, but it will have a
symbolic impact far beyond the troop numbers themselves.
Analysts say the Dutch
contingent has pioneered techniques which have since been held up as a model
for other foreign forces in Afghanistan.
These include the “3D”
policy – defence, diplomacy and development – which involved fighting the
Taliban while at the same time building close contacts with local tribal elders
and setting up development programmes.
“We offer the majority of
the population relatively safe living conditions and advancements in health
care, education and trade,” Gen Van Uhm told a news conference on Wednesday.
“We have achieved tangible
results of which the Netherlands can be proud.”
Uruzgan is a poor
mountainous region north of Helmand and Kandahar, and the Dutch lost far fewer
troops than the UK, US and Canada, the main forces further south.
Gen Van Uhm said 24 Dutch
troops died during the four-year mission and 140 were wounded. His 23-year-old
son was killed by a roadside bomb in April 2008.
A Taliban spokesman told the
Volksrant newspaper that the group wanted to “wholeheartedly congratulate the
citizens and government of the Netherlands” for pulling out its troops and
urged others to follow suit.
Officials in Brussels insist
the rest of the military alliance remains solid and note that the decision of
the Dutch to go ahead with the withdrawal did not produce a chain reaction of
other announcements about pull-outs.
But Canada is still expected
to withdraw its forces next year, Poland in 2012, and the UK in 2014 or 2015.
With increasing focus on the
process – if not the exact timetable – for handing over security to the
Afghans, analysts say there is a growing sense that commitments are finite,