France offers to support Dutch troops in Afghanistan

France has offered to send between 80 and 100 soldiers to back up Dutch troops in southern Afghanistan, according to sources close to the meeting of NATO defence ministers in Noordwijk, reports Thursday’s Volkskrant.

As well as manpower, the French may also provide fighter jets to give Dutch troops much needed air cover, the paper says. And Hungary too also offered to send 50 military personnel to assist the Dutch.
The Dutch government has been pressing its NATO partners for extra support for its mission in Uruzgan for months. The Hague is currently deciding whether to extend its mission in Afghanistan after the summer of 2008 when the existing mandate expires.
Dutch defence minister Eimert van Middelkoop would not say whether the extra military support pledged at Noordwijk yesterday will be enough to convince his government to keep troops in Afghanistan, reports the Volkskrant.
‘All options remain open. The race is not over yet. No-one should just presume that the Netherlands will stay,’ Van Middelkoop told the paper.
Meanwhile the official international headlines from the NATO conference focus on the US defence secretary Gates who says he ‘hopes and expects’ the Netherlands to stay in Uruzgan.
The Volkskrant also claims that an investigation by the paper into the total cost of the Dutch military action in Afghanistan puts the figure at at least €1.2bn. That is much higher than the €580m that the defence ministry says has been spent on the mission. The original estimate was €320m, the paper says.

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