Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Wrong to Send More Troops to Afghanistan

Posted by butalidnl on 30 January 2011

The Dutch government just approved the sending of 545 police and soldiers to Afghanistan. They will be stationed in the province of Kunduz, and will concentrate on training local police. This seems to be rather innocent, and is safer than the previous Dutch mission in Uruzgan province, where they were constantly fighting the Taliban.

WHY? After all, the Dutch have already done their part, having sent that previous mission to a volatile province. So, nobody could say that the Dutch are simply standing idly by while other countries are sending soldiers into harm’s way.  The Dutch could easily say to others: “we’re done, it’s your turn”.

There are those that argue that Afghanistan is everybody’s responsibility. The world had left Afghanistan to itself before, and as a result, Al Qaida used it as its base from which to launch the “9/11” attack. Even if we grant the logic of this line of reasoning, I think the Dutch should still not send more troops there now. Because if it is indeed everybody’s responsibility, then why isn’t it the United Nations  that  is in charge of Afghanistan? I think it should, actually. But it happens that America would rather do the Afghanistan operation on its own; and when they found this too difficult, it asked NATO to help it out, but the US is still calling the shots there.

The US does not want to involve the UN in its Afghanistan operation, because it wants to have a direct hand on all decisions about Afghanistan.  If it passed the responsibility on to the UN, the US will still contribute a big part of the financing for the operation,  but it won’t have to send that many troops themselves.  A UN operation would mean that other countries get to participate in the effort – we would then perhaps see Swedish, Ecuadorian, Nigerian, Nepalese, even Filipino troops in Afghanistan.

With the present arrangement though, the US retains control of everything in Afghanistan, including NATO, and it prefers it that way. I don’t think it is wise for the Dutch, or any other NATO country, to agree to this. They should insist that the operation be turned over to the UN.

Not only is the general framework all wrong,  the details are also problematic.  The proposed Dutch mission is to train police in Kunduz province. This isn’t the most dangerous province in Afghanistan; it is a far cry from Uruzgan (where the previous Dutch mission was), which was a lot more violent.  The Dutch government is assuring the opposition that these trainees will not be used against the Taliban.  And the opposition bought it! I think this “assurance” is as leaky as a basket.  The Afghan government is sure to agree to it, but not really implement it.
Remember Srebrenica, in 1995? Then, the Dutch UN troops there received assurances from the Serbian military that no harm will come to the Muslim men that the Dutch were protecting, if they were turned over to the Serbs. The Dutch believed the Serb military! And about 8000 Muslims were killed by the Serbs as a result. Assurances are not written in stone, especially not in a war situation. The Dutch have not learned their lesson.

Another problem with the “assurances” that the Dutch want is that the training of Afghan police is done by forces from many countries together. It would be difficult to point out which trainees are being trained specifically by the Dutch.

Saying that the police will not engage the Taliban is quite impractical. If they are assigned to a specific village, they will have to respond to the whole spectrum of crimes and threats. It would be ridiculous to tell them to go after drug smugglers and other criminals, but not the Taliban.  What if the one doing the drug smuggling is a member of the Taliban? How will the police know if they are Taliban anyway? They don’t have uniforms identifying themselves as such.

The Afghan police trainees will be controlled by the local militia leader (read: warlord) and will effectively be part of his forces. The Dutch will then just be strengthening that local militia leader. And these people are unreliable at the least. So, the better the Dutch are in training these police, the worse things may turn out to be (of course, depending on whether the local militia leader remains loyal to the government, or not).

So, as things now are, it is indeed a very bad idea for the Dutch to send its newest mission to Afghanistan. Not only will it not help, but it may even make things worse.


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