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Sun

18

Nov

2007

'Netherlands likely to extend tour in Afghanistan'
Sunday, 18 November 2007 14:15
by Daan de Wit
This article has been translated into English by Ben Kearney
A well-informed source inside the Dutch military told me yesterday:
"...there [are] so many indications to assure that The Netherlands is going to extend its mission in Afghanistan".
He speaks regularly with commanders who have just returned from service in Afghanistan. This combined with information from public sources leads him to believe that there is no question that the mission in Afghanistan will be prolonged.

Eigthy percent of the almost thirty soldiers coming back from Afghanistan with whom he has spoken are convinced that the war cannot be won. The soldiers also told him that they see the mission as a combat mission. Even the highest-ranking officer in the Dutch armed forces, General Dick Berlijn, feels that the term 'reconstruction mission' is inaccurate.

Minister of Defense Van Middelkoop:
"We need to stop trying to decide if it's a reconstruction or a combat mission. Neither the word reconstruction nor the word combat captures it. It's both."
Minister Koenders:
"[...] It's not a combat mission or a reconstruction mission. It's both of those things. [...]'. Journalist Henk Hofland writing in July: 'By now everyone has figured out that we're dealing with a 'combat mission' [...]".
Novelist and reporter Arnon Grunberg writes in the November 2nd edition of NRC Handelsblad:
"The current debate being held in The Netherlands concerning the extension of our mission in Afghanistan is futile for several reasons. For starters, the decision to extend the mission has already been made. The MP that noted that the Lower House was an extension of [the popular talkshow] Barend & Van Dorp was right. High-ranking Dutch officers in Afghanistan are prepared to concede that a decision has already been made, provided that they remain anonymous. [...] Of course there are geopolitical reasons for NATO's presence in Afghanistan. One look at the map can convince anyone of that. But the electorate, which prefers to be spoken to in childlike terms, considers geopolitics to be a dirty word."

In the same newspaper on the same day, J.H. Sampiemon writes:

"The Netherlands had intended to pull its troops out of Afghanistan by the middle of next year. It was agreed upon; others would take over the job. Meanwhile the cabinet is giving the impression that it would like to reconsider that clear-cut position. It's no longer about replacing, but about supplementing with a Dutch contingent reduced by a few hundred soldiers. The public is being fooled into believing that we now have a kind of moral obligation "not to let the Afghan people down"'.

In April, American Ambassador Ronald Arnall told RTL4:

"My understanding is that the Dutch will remain on some of the bases".

This brings up the question: 'What does Arnall know that we don't?' The commander of the Dutch armed forces, Dick Berlijn, is in favor of extending. Minister of Defense Van Middelkoop as well, though he later retracted his statement.

Sampiemon:

"Once again a fog of opinion has grown around a decision which has practically already been made, though not yet formally."

Leave or stay in Uruzgan?, is the question that current affairs program EenVandaag posed to two Afghanistan veterans from the former Soviet Union in a report entitled The lessons of the Red Army.

Colonel Genaddy Shorokhov says in the report that with 1400 men - the amount of Dutch troops in Afghanistan - it's possible to control one square kilometer. He says that reconstruction is pointless in a war zone. General Berlijn sees it differently: 'The fact that the Dutch are being engaged frequently does not rule out reconstruction, Berlijn claims. He feels that an increase in security goes hand in hand with reconstruction.'

General Lev Serebrov tells EenVandaag:
"[The Afghan] sees [...] any army that finds itself in his territory as an aggresor. Whether we like it or not, he's going to shoot. Whether you like it or not, you're not going to change the worldview of the average Afghan just like that. We weren't able to do it in ten years. For the Afghan, Islam and his country come first, everything else after that."
Serebrov's advice is to leave the country and let things transpire as they inevitably will: fighting out the disagreements and dividing up the power.
"The Taliban is a consequence of American and Pakistani support provided to the Mujahideen and this support was part of the strategy to hamper the Soviet Union when that country was waging war during the 1980's in Afghanistan. More American support followed in May of 2001. At the time the Taliban received considerable financial support from the U.S. in its successful fight against opium. Since then opium production has increased greatly and 'the fight against drugs is a spearhead of the joint military operation of The Netherlands [...]."
In 2001 the Taliban fell out of favor with the U.S. when it chose not to cooperate on the construction of an oil pipeline. The Taliban came into public view after President Bush made the link between this group and Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden ended up in that country after he had worn out his welcome in Sudan. This country had offered to hand him over to the U.S., but the U.S. refused. When the Taliban offered to hand over Bin Laden shortly after the attacks on America, the U.S. once again refused and began their build-up for the war against Afghanistan. Meanwhile The Netherlands is also fighting the Taliban.

Reports of Taliban killed by the Dutch appear regularly in the press. This is misleading because in practice it's not so simple to determine who belongs to the Taliban. When at a certain point a number of Afghans wanted to fight alongside Dutch troops, a soldier used red and white military cordon tape to distinguish them from the Taliban. And distinguishing them while bombardments are going on is totally out of the question.

This was made clear just recently when, out of 65 Afghans killed in the city of Deh Rawod, half of the victims consisted of women and children. 'A human rights representative from the United Nations, Richard Bennett, said Monday that in the first four months of this year, between 320 and 380 civilians have been killed in military operations in Afghanistan. [...] Bennett also said that it's often difficult for the Americans and other NATO soldiers to distinguish between the Taliban, other rebels and civilians. Many Afghans have weapons in their homes and they may protect their homes. They might not be Taliban, but on the other hand they might be Taliban or other insurgents", said Bennett.' 'In late June the Afghan President Hamid Karzai lashed out at The Netherlands with unprecentented severity over the fighting around Chora and in particular over the use of Panzer Howitzers, a long-range cannon artillery system.



"You don't open fire at a distance of 30 kilometers from the target. If you do that you are almost sure to produce civilian casualties'', said Karzai. Newspapper Trouw writes: 'The Dutch Panzer Howitzers fired on Chora without acquiring the target. According to [the commander of ISAF, General] McNeill, that's contrary to the military's rules of engagement. When firing, a clear distinction must be made between a military target and civilian objects.'

Grunberg writing in the NRC: 'I dare say that the Dutch state isn't any worse for the wear from this mission, and our influence within NATO has also increased a bit thanks to Afghanistan. (For wounded soldiers and the families of fallen soldiers, I'm afraid that the state is a cynical entity)'. That quote also refers indirectly to Dutch participation in the Iraq war. The facts upon which The Netherlands based sending soldiers to Iraq are still a secret. Investigations into similar missions have taken place in the U.S. and England. Not in The Netherlands.

In March NRC Handelsblad wrote under the headline Iraq investigation remains behind 'iron curtain': 'It was some strong verbal artillery that Bert Koenders - now Labor Minister for Development Cooperation, back then opposition MP - employed in Parliament on June 30, 2004. "Undemocratic" is how he referred to the government's position, after then Minister of Defense Kamp had made clear during debate that no further information would be provided as to why the Balkenende government gave political support to the war against Iraq. "The iron curtain has fallen", concluded Koenders bitterly. Almost three years later it's clear that even with Koenders and the Labor Party in the coalition government, that curtain will remain closed for the time being.'

President Bush and Prime Minister Blair openly made use of a system that provided them with information via UN weapons inspectors and intelligence services like the CIA during the run-up to the Iraq war. But behind closed doors they followed a secret course of action in which the deception of the outside world was most important. DeepJournal reported on this before, during and after the war.

The Netherlands was made part of this deception. To what extent the government was kept in the loop on the deception is unknown. Alongside this important question is another even more important one. Now that it's become clear that the countries which formed the foundation of the attack on Iraq did so based on faulty information, it's important to know on what information The Netherlands based its participation in the war against Iraq, and it's continuing participation in the war in Afghanistan.

Part of that information consists of a British report that Balkenende got from his colleague Blair, in which it was claimed that Iraq could mount a strike with weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes. This claim has been proven false. The TV program Nova wrote in August 2003: '[Dutch Prime Minister] Balkenende said Thursday that Blair's report did 'not figure conclusively' in determining the Dutch cabinet's position on the Iraq question.

It was one of the sources with which the cabinet formed its opinion. [...] The decision was dictated primarily by the fact that Saddam Hussein had for years refused to comply with Security Council resolutions requiring him to disarm. "The cabinet felt that that had gone on long enough," according to the minister. Minister of Defense Kamp then refused to respond to questions, in particular from Labor, GroenLinks and D66, requesting insight into the investigation by the Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service [MIVD] into the British report.'

Prime Minister Balkenende based his decision on a report that appeared to be inaccurate, on notes made by the MIVD on this report, and on other sources. What did the notes made by the MIVD consist of? 'The contents of confidential documents from the Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD), which were published by NRC Handelsblad in June of 2004, indicate at any rate that the MIVD's thinking on weapons of mass destruction was considerably more nuanced than what the American and British leaders expressed in their conclusions', wrote NRC editor Joost Oranje in his newspaper in March. If the MIVD nuanced the British sources (later proven to be false), then there must have been very little value attributed to those qualifications by the Dutch government. Henk Hofland wrote in February in the NRC: 'In all respects - political, military, international law - the cabinet should have known better.

Did it consciously cut itself off from undesireable information? Did the ministers not understand that they were helping to unleash pandemonium? Why aren't we allowed to know that now?' 'Intelligence expert Kees Kalkman thinks that the MIVD reports were perhaps a little 'too nuanced': 'It's odd that the minister didn't even have the MIVD report read in private. That would suggest that the MIVD report could be interpreted differently', writes the Groene Amsterdammer.

What else was there besides the qualification by the MIVD of the British documents? There were the 'other sources' that Balkenende talked about. What did they consist of? Did The Netherlands have other, better sources than England and the U.S.? That's highly unlikely. It's much more likely that The Netherlands placed its confidence in sources from England and the U.S., among them perhaps the now notorious speech by Powell to the UN Security Council. Those sources proved to be false. As soon as Prime Minister Balkenende will make a disclosure of the facts, parliament and the government can then determine - based on the new data - whether it's prudent to extend the mission in Afghanistan or to discontinue it.
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