Dutch ‘naive’ at start of Afghan mission, VK

Today marks the halfway point for the four-year Dutch military mission in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan, reports Friday’s Volkskrant.

It is, says the paper, a good moment to evaluate the achievements and failures of the mission which has cost 16 Dutch lives and €700m of taxpayers’ money.
Its conclusion is that the Netherlands, which has around 1,700 troops in the region, was ‘naive’ at the start of what was initially going to be a two-year contribution to Nato’s reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. The government agreed at the end of last year to extend the Dutch operation in the country to 2010.
Hearts and minds
The mission has four goals, the paper says: security, reconstruction, the establishment of local government and the battle for ‘hearts and minds’.
From a military perspective, security in Uruzgan has improved with the number of Afghan soldiers in the province up from 130 to 1,700 and increased independence, concludes the Volkskrant.
Taliban fighters have been pushed back from several important positions and a system of fortified patrol posts has been put in place to keep them away.
But the residents of Uruzgan do not feel safer because of corruption and criminality within the police force, according to the paper.
Positive signs
Nevertheless civilian life has improved: markets are busy, there are more schools and hospitals and many places have electricity for the first time.
Another positive sign is the start of development projects in the province, says the paper. A number of Western aid organisations are opening offices in the region ‘although work on building real sustainable development still has to start’.
Concrete results in the areas of local government, the judicial system, education and agriculture cannot be expected in the short term, concludes the Volkskrant.
But unlike the military, aid organisations are used to working on long term projects and ‘are not surprised when aid money disappears through corruption and incompetence’.
This month the first civilian narcotics expert is to arrive at Camp Holland. The advice he has been given applies to everyone in the Netherlands, says the Volkskrant: ‘Don’t be too result-oriented and you must be able to cope with disappointments’.

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