Military action in Uruzgan is ineffective: Invest instead in real development workers

15 November 2007

Military action in Uruzgan is ineffective: Invest instead in real development workers

That Defence Minister Eimert van Middelkoop stated at a recent debate organised by this newspaper – the Reformatorisch Dagblad (RD) -that he is funds to prolong the military mission in the Afghan province of Uruzgan is something to which Harry van Bommel, Member of Parliament and foreign affairs spokesman for the SP, is completely opposed. Below, he argues that the money would be better spent on real development workers.

The minister predicted in his speech during RD's recent evening debate on Uruzgan, that the Dutch army would remain active abroad. The SP questions most strongly the need to act as an armed force throughout the world and would argue that the assumption that this approach serves the interests of security is incorrect.

The government's official reason for the sending of our armed forces into Uruzgan was that the Taliban had been all but driven from southern Afghanistan. This has turned out not to be the case. In Afghanistan a complex civil war is raging, a war in which the Netherlands is intervening. We are more likely to provoke enmity through the use of weapons than we are to reduce it. It is no more true, moreover, to say that our armed action serves the security interests of the Afghan population.

The situation in which we have found ourselves in Afghanistan has led to a much greater level of engagement of manpower than was at first expected. The news that F16s have, on two hundred occasions in the space of a year, dropped five hundred pound bombs of the type GBU 12, has not come from the minister, who does not disclose this sort of war news, but from an article in De Telegraaf on the work of the air force. Despite the minister's swearing that the opposite was true, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission consists of the routine waging of guerilla war.

Civilian victims

Bombing raids by F16s and Apache helicopters are relatively safe for our own troops, but almost always result in civilian victims. President Karzai quite rightly objects to this, and it is not for nothing that the Red Cross has concluded that last year was the country's bloodiest since 2001. All of this stands squarely at odds with the goal of winning the confidence of the Afghan people.

The feasibility of the original plan for reconstruction was already strongly contested by the SP. Of course the SP shares the opinion that the Afghan people must be helped. An important precondition for such help is that warring Afghan groups must arrive at a ceasefire. Aid can best be delivered by withdrawing the troops from Uruzgan and putting a large slice of the resources currently spent on the armed forces at the disposal of real development workers. In addition, money will be needed for the development of Afghan state institutions free of corruption.

Probably the most important thing, however, is to make the Afghans themselves jointly responsible for security by contributing to the training, arming and payment of Afghan police officers and the Afghan army. Only then will peace really have a chance in Afghanistan.

This article first appeared (in Dutch) in the daily newspaper Reformatorisch Dagblad on 15th November 2007.

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