NATO chief accepts Netherlands' planned withdrawal from southern Afghanistan
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he would "understand" if the Netherlands reduces its military force in Afghanistan after 2010 in an interview with Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad which was published over the weekend, Xinhua reported.
"I can well imagine that there comes a point where the resources of the armed forces cannot be stretched any further," De Hoop Scheffer said just before the international conference on Afghanistan in The Hague on Tuesday.
"There comes a point where you have to give people and material a rest, even for the Netherlands," said the NATO chief, a Dutch national himself.
The Netherlands has some 1,700 troops deployed in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan, one of the volatile regions where the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) confronts the Taliban directly. The mission was originally planned to end in August 2008 but has been extended to the end of 2010.
De Hoop Scheffer has in recent years been an important advocate of the Netherlands sending more troops to Afghanistan. He urged The Hague to extend the Uruzgan mission two years ago, when the matter was under heated debate in the country.
Now he simply expresses the hope that the Netherlands will remain active in some way in Afghanistan after 2010, NRC Handelsblad said.
The Dutch Defense Ministry faces thousands of vacancies and financial shortfalls, partly due to the rapid wearing out of materiel in Uruzgan. About half Dutch people oppose the troops staying in Uruzgan after 2010.
The Dutch government has assured the parliament that the mission in Uruzgan, where the Netherlands has been playing a leading role in ISAF military operations, will end in 2010.
But the government has left open the possibility of the Netherlands maintaining a military presence in Afghanistan.