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The Uruzgan Effect

22 April 2008

The Uruzgan Effect

This week saw the parliamentary debate on progress in Afghanistan. Or, to put it more accurately, retrogression in that country. According to reports from the UN and other organisations, 2007 was the least safe year for Afghanistan since 2001, and 2008 threatens to be still worse. The production of drugs in 2007 broke world records. With scores like these, you have to ask what we're actually doing there.

Harry van BommelThe government doesn't want to know about things going backwards. "We are going to be taking small steps forward," said the Minister of Defence. "Schools are being rebuilt, roads repaired and so on." The Americans are a little more honest. "The Taliban are becoming stronger and more brutal," a highly-placed military man said not long ago. That NATO chief Jaap De Hoop Scheffer was recently bold enough to assert that NATO "holds the winning hand", a statement beyond belief. Everything is pointing to the opposite conclusion. We are losing the fight for Afghanistan.

Against this background, and given the loss of human lives, it is not to be wondered at that there seems little enthusiasm for a military career, and even talk of mass exit. More people are leaving the Dutch armed forces than are joining them. This is referred to internally as the "Uruzgan Effect". Each time Dutch soldiers are killed, recruitment figures fall by precipitously.

Retiring head of the armed forces Dick Berlijn this week suggested that conscription should be reintroduced. This is an idiotic idea. In the Netherlands there is absolutely no support for such a move, due to the fact that there is absolutely no threat to our country. Most people, quite correctly in my view, see our presence in Afghanistan and Iraq as support for the Americans' counterproductive war on terrorism. So there will be no reinstitution of conscription, and we are stuck with the problem that the armed forces are not recruiting enough people.

For this problem there are two possible solutions, but the Cabinet is not in favour of either. You can, as the right-wing opposition party the VVD advocates, allocate more money to the Defence department and, for example, increase salaries. This would attract more people and keep them longer in the service. The other solution, is, however, the one that has my support – reduce the scope of the armed forces' ambitions. By not deciding either way, the Cabinet has gone in reality for the worst possible solution. The armed forces are coming apart at the seams. Too little money to match their ambitions is leading to fewer people in the service and inadequate equipment. This is, in the end, disastrous for the armed forces, and it will mean that the good things which they wish to accomplish will be left undone.

Harry van Bommel

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