Pressure mounts on Dutch over Uruzgan

The US, Australia and Afghanistan itself have all said they hope the Netherlands will remain active in Afghanistan once its official mandate expires in August 2010, foreign affairs minister Maxime Verhagen said in a letter to MPs on Tuesday.

Verhagen was answering Liberal party questions following a radio station report that the Dutch mission to Afghanistan may be extended.
The minister said Dutch efforts in the region are ‘valued for their professionalism and effectiveness, as well as the high level of integration between civilian and military efforts’.
Last week, sources in the Hague told the Volkskrant defence minister Eimert van Middelkoop is no longer opposed to the Netherlands maintaining a slimmed-down presence in Afghanistan, once its military mission ends next August. Earlier that week, BNR radio said Verhagen had also hinted that an extension of Dutch efforts in the region may be possible.
Coalition divided
But Labour ministers are still opposed, meaning there is no majority support in the government for the move. Verhagen is a member of the Christian Democrats and Van Middelkoop is from the minor coalition party ChristenUnie.
The Netherlands currently has some 2,000 soldiers and support staff in the southern region of Uruzgan, the paper says. But army chiefs and diplomats expect between 400 and 500 will remain in the area once the Netherlands hands over its role.
The Netherlands has been active in Afghanistan since 2006. In total 21 soldiers have been killed.
MPs are due to debate the issue within the next two weeks. Labour, Liberal VVD and Socialist MPs all want the Netherlands to pull out as agreed next year.

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