NATO has again called on the Netherlands to stay on in Afghanistan in a military capacity, arguing that a complete pull-out would have “major political consequences”. NATO’s spokesman James Appathurai told Radio Netherlands on Friday that the impact could “not be underestimated” and that it would send a “worrying signal” to the Afghans. The alliance’s reputation would also come under pressure, he said.
After the fall of the Dutch government last weekend, a November 2007 decision to withdraw all 1500 troops from Uruzgan as from next August must now be executed, unless parliament instructs the current caretaker government to do otherwise. However, a majority of the political parties in the Second Chamber of parliament oppose a continued military presence in Uruzgan. NATO says it will find enough troops to fill the gap left by the announced Dutch withdrawal from Uruzgan.
It remains unclear who NATO Secretary General Rasmussen consulted ahead of writing his February 4th letter asking the Dutch to stay on with a smaller training mission. The issue sparked the collapse of the government last Saturday when Labour ministers left the government of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende.
Listen to an interview of our Brussels correspondent Vanessa Mock with James Appathurai, spokesman of NATO.
Verbatim text of parts of the interview:
On consultations with the Dutch government prior to the February 4th letter:
”Of course he talked to The Hague, he wouldn’t do this in isolation. But when he writes a letter, he writes his views, also based also on extensive consultations with our military authorities. All of those consultations took place.
“I don’t know specifically with whom he spoke. And I see no particular reason for the Secretary General to make public the names of individuals with whom he spoke. Our approach in The Hague to ensure that the Dutch could have a smaller mission in place.
“The Dutch do a great job and we want to see it continue in a very important part of the country. It’s as simple as that.”
On the impact of a Dutch pull-out:
“We will manage. There are a lot of forces on the ground and lot of countries. The number will grow to 46 [countries] in the coming days, so there are more countries coming on board and more forces.
“But I don’t think, to be very honest, that we can underestimate the impact of this. It sends a worrying signal to the Afghans in Uruzgan and they have already expressed it. It has sparked an international media debate about NATO’s staying power.
“Now we have to respond to that and demonstrate that we have it. That discussion is on the table in a way it wasn’t before. And all the other allies now have to look at what they might have to do to fill the gap of what the Dutch were. Does it have a cost? Yes, it has a cost.
“Training of the Afghan forces is key. We are going to have to be a position to give lead responsibility more and more to the Afghans in the coming months and years. So all the allies are trying to see what they can do to provide more trainers so we are continuing to press all the allies, including the Netherlands, to do more to help with training. That’s the future for Afghanistan and for our mission.”