Country’s decision could impact debate over Canada’s role

Canada isn’t the only country agonizing over whether to extend its troop deployment in Afghanistan or bring the soldiers home.


The Netherlands is getting set to make a similar decision and it must make it sooner than Canada.


The Dutch must decide whether the 1,000 or more troops, the helicopters and the jet fighters it has in southern Afghanistan will remain beyond August 2008, when the current commitment expires.


“After two years, another NATO nation has to take over the load,” said Frank van Kappen, a retired major-general with the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps. “That was our exit strategy.”


“Now the moment of truth is nearing. If NATO cannot find a credible nation to take over our job, what do you do?” said van Kappen, now a senior adviser with the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies.

The arguments now being aired in the Netherlands promise a preview of what Canadians can expect to hear at home, perhaps as early as this fall, as Parliament gets set to decide the future of Canada’s 2,500 troops serving in Kandahar province.

Indeed, some say a decision by the Dutch to withdraw from the dangerous southern regions could set the stage for Canada’s pull-out in February 2009.

“Their commitment to stay the course will have a huge impact on Canada and NATO,” said Senator Colin Kenny, chair of the Senate committee on national security and defence.

The Netherlands dispatched its task force in 2006 after an extensive debate in Parliament, knowing the dangers but recognizing that it couldn’t “sit on the sidelines.”

“We realized that it was a very dangerous mission, that we would have casualties and that there would be very little we could show after two years,” said van Kappen, who served as a senior military adviser to United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan.

“There are a lot of nations who want to hand out school books and oranges. What counts is if you’re willing to share with your allies the difficult part of the mission,” he said in an interview.

death toll

  • The Netherlands has lost nine soldiers in Afghanistan, far short of the 66 Canadian soldiers and one diplomat killed there, but still enough to prompt the Dutch population to question the effectiveness of the mission.