Peacekeeping in Afghanistan Is Modern Crisis Management: Dutch Parliamentary Debate on Troops for Afghanistan

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After an intense debate in February, the Dutch government gained parliamentary approval for sending 1,400 additional troops to Afghanistan to help extend NATO peacekeeping into the southern provinces. This is part of a wider international effort, that includes big commitments by Britain and Canada, to expand the work of the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which is expected to double in size this year to about 17,000 troops. ISAF may face combat with Taliban units that have been operating more aggressively in southern Afghanistan from their sanctuaries in Pakistan's mountainous border zone.

In deciding to send troops, the Netherlands joined Canada in providing other national contingents alongside U.S. and British forces in expanding the zone of Western peacekeeping efforts in Afghanistan. The Dutch contingent will operate in Oruzgan province starting in August - an advance guard arrived in April. Canadian troops are moving into Kandahar province, home of the country's main southern town. British forces are deploying in neighboring Helmand province.

The main focus of ISAF has become providing security for the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs): there are 23 of these teams around the country, each numbering between 100 and 200 civilian and military specialists, working on building roads, schools, sanitation systems and similar projects. Protecting these teams and facilitating economic recovery in Afghanistan's traditionally remote southern area will constitute NATO's "most ambitious operation" so far in Afghanistan, according to the alliance's military commander, U.S. General James L. Jones.

This campaign is officially known as "stage 3" in the overall allied plan for restoring Afghan government control Hid economic life throughout the country. The role of the troops in ISAF is meant to be reconstruction, not hunting down Taliban fighters. That mission is in the hands of U.S. troops and special forces from Britain, Canada, France and other nations. But the mission of providing security will leave some scope for operational interpretation by the commanders on the ground, Dutch parliamentarians were told.

The debate in The Hague aired the full range of concerns among parliamentarians, their parties and public opinion in the Netherlands - and more broadly in Europe - about what circumstances justify sending troops (and possibly using force) to help stabilize post-conflict situations. "It is a dangerous mission, the most dangerous mission since Srebrenica," Defense Minister Henk Kamp said, referring to the town in Bosnia-Herzegovina where Dutch peacekeepers failed to prevent the massacre of thousands of Moslems by Serbian forces 10 years ago during the civil war in the former Yugoslavia. For the Dutch mission in Afghanistan, the military and political challenges are the same as for the other European countries that have sent troops.

From the outset, the operation promises to be hazardous. Recrudescent Taliban forces have stepped up their attacks on Afghan army and international peacekeeping units trying to improve government control in provincial zones. The arrival of European forces is intended to free some U.S. forces to intensify Operation Enduring Freedom, the military campaign to wipe out Taliban fighters. The two missions are separate in theory, but in practice overlaps seem likely to occur on occasion. The risks, both military and political, were underscored when the Taliban escalated the scale and intensity of their raids in the southern provinces in late spring. The timing of their offensive seemed intended to test the mettle of the newly-deploying Dutch, Canadian and British troops and perhaps undermine support at home for an assignment liable to prove more dangerous and difficult than anticipated. Of course, the heightened tensions also seemed to underscore just how essential the expanded NATO pacification mission had become.

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In addition, there are questions about what policy to adopt toward the opium industry in the Afghan provinces. …