Afghan bloodshed rises, Dutch government falls

Issue 

The Dutch government collasped on February 20 as a result of growing popular opposition to Dutch participation in the US-led war in Afghanistan.

The Labour Party — the junior partner in the ruling coalition — withdrew after Christian Democrat Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende agreed to a US request to prolong the deployment of the 2000 Dutch soldiers in Afghanistan.

On February 21, Balkenende told Dutch TV that his government's collapse would mean that Dutch troops would withdraw between August and the end of the year, as had been previously planned.

US defence secretary Robert Gates bemoaned the lack of fighting spirit in Europe in a February 21 speech to the National Defense University in Washington DC: "The demilitarisation of Europe — where large swathes of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it — has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st."

The Dutch withdrawal is a set back to US attempts to get its allies to join its troop surge. The number of US soldiers in Afghanistan is set to double to about 50,000.

The Dutch withdrawal is likely to increase US pressure on Australia for greater involvement in the occupation. Australia's 1500 soldiers in Afghanistan played a supporting role to Dutch forces in the Uruzgan province.

US President Barack Obama will be visiting Australia in late March.

Defence minister Senator John Faulkner has so far said Australia would not take over the Dutch role.

The impact of Obama's surge is being tested in Operation Moshtarak, a military offensive in Helmand province launched by foreign occupation forces on February 13.

Western politicians and military spokespeople have claimed it represents a new strategy. However, besides the increased number of available US troops, the operation the same mix of military brute force and PR spin as previous offensives.

Part of the spin has involved claims of minimising civilian casualties and providing security to the population. However, a February 24 DPA news agency report said at least 50 civilians had been killed by occupation forces in the first two weeks of the offensive, including 27 killed by an air strike on a civilian road convoy on February 21 in Uruzgan.

The February 25 British Morning Star said: "Red Cross officials reported that at least 40,000 people trapped by the fighting have little or no access to medical care."

The United Nations said 2009 was the worst year yet for Afghan civilians. The UN said the death toll includes 346 children: 153 killed by the occupation forces, 128 by Taliban insurgents and 38 whose killers are unknown.

Obama's surge has also meant a rise in the number of occupation troops killed. The Morning Star said 13 occupying soldiers have been killed in Operation Moshtarak's first two weeks.

On February 24, the Icasualties.org website reported that the body count of US soldiers in Afghanistan had reached 1000.

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