The Netherlands is coming under increased diplomatic pressure from the United States to remain committed to the international security effort in Afghanistan after August 1st, next year. On that date, the Dutch role as ‘lead nation’ in the central province of Uruzgan comes to an end.
The withdrawal of the estimated 1,300 troops from the province will be completed by December 31st, the government in The Hague has assured parliament. It also said that it’s up to NATO to find another member of the alliance to take its place as ‘lead nation’ of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Uruzgan.
First, the US launched a charm offensive, applauding the way the Dutch armed forces handled their ISAF mission in Uruzgan, based on a ‘3-D’ model (Defence, Diplomacy, Development). The ‘Dutch Approach’ is apparently seen as an exemplary strategy by the Obama administration. Little does it matter that the NATO commander of all ISAF troops in Southern Afghanistan told Radio Netherlands Worldwide that there is no such thing as a ‘Dutch Approach’ and that all ISAF lead nations in the south approach the existing challenges in more or less the same way. The commander in question, Major-General Mart de Kruif, is in an eminent position to make that observation, being a Dutchman himself.
Last week, the first diplomatic broadsides were launched by two US diplomats. First, the newly appointed US ambassador to the Netherlands told the daily ‘De Pers’ that the Dutch have played a strong leadership role within NATO, encouraging other nations to follow their example. “Therefore, we seek a continuation of their commitment in Afghanistan”, ambassador Fay Hartog Levin was quoted as saying on September 4th in ‘De Pers’. “We need military leadership, development aid, training (of the Afghan army and police, hdv), reconstruction efforts – everything”, the ambassador continued. She added that, in diplomatic terms, it was of course up to The Netherlands itself to decide what shape such a continued commitment could have.
Fair to ask
Almost simultaneously, the US ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder (of Dutch descent, just like his colleague Fay Hartog Levin) told an audience in The Hague more or less the same thing, albeit in a nicely condensed way: “The Dutch forces have worked so hard, and accomplished so much in leading the effort in Afghanistan”, ambassador Daalder stated. “Therefore, deciding on any future involvement in Afghanistan, it may well be fair to ask if the best way to protect this considerable investment is by continuing to remain engaged in this country and with this effort in some considerable way”, he said. There is a lot to be read between those few lines.
This Friday, it will be the turn of US General Stanley McChrystal to do the rounds in The Hague. He is ‘dual-hatted’ in diplomatic parlance, being both the commander of ISAF and of the US forces in Afghanistan. Besides the inevitable meetings behind closed doors, the four-star general will also have open meetings with the Dutch military and media. To round off matters for the time being, the US boss of General McChrystal is expected to visit The Netherlands next week. He is General David Petraeus, commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM) which also covers Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Dutch politicians are still surprisingly silent about an eventual extension of the Dutch military role in Afghanistan. However, they have only recently returned from their annual summer holidays only to work overtime in preparation of next week’s presentation of the government budget. But no doubt, Afghanistan will be returned to the political front line.