Cabinet to decide on Afghan mission

The cabinet is to investigate whether it is possible and desirable for the Netherlands to continue its military mission in Afghanistan after the current two-year mandate expires in August 2008.

But MPs are unhappy with comments made by defence minister Eimert Middelkoop in which he suggested that the cabinet intends to keep Dutch troops in Afghanistan after the current deadline.
According to today’s Volkskrant, MPs feel Middelkoop’s remarks following Friday’s cabinet meeting were premature. Christian Democrat parliamentary leader Pieter van Geel told the paper that Middelkoop’s remarks were ‘unfortunate at the very least’.
And conservative VVD MP Hans van Baalen said that two conditions must be met before a decision can be made: the finance minister had to make more money available and there must be a strong third country prepared to support Dutch troops.
According to ANP, prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende’s comments on the issue were more cautious than that of the defence minister.
Balkenende stressed that the cabinet would look at three options: keeping Dutch troops in Afghanistan, keeping troops but changing the conditions under which they would serve, and pulling out Dutch troops.
The Netherlands has some 1,600 soldiers in the region. A decision on extending the mission is expected later this summer.
Meanwhile Middelkoop has announced plans for substantial cuts in the armed forces’ weapons and equipment to solve the department’s €1bn budget shortfall. But the new round of cuts does not involve compulsory redundancies, ANP reported on Monday.

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