No to ‘training mission’ in Afghanistan

12 November 2010

No to ‘training mission’ in Afghanistan

Prime minister Mark Rutte’s government will shortly take a decision regarding a renewed military mission in Afghanistan. In view of the failure of the mission to produce results, it would be better to say ‘no’ for once to NATO’s request, argues SP Member of Parliament Harry van Bommel.

The impression is being created that this would be merely a training mission with a limited number of soldiers going along for protection. In the past Parliament agreed to a reconstruction mission which in practice, however, soon became a battle mission. There are numerous reasons to assume that this will turn out the same.
For one thing, a police mission with military support is simply a military mission. The probable fifty instructors will be guarded by at least 250 soldiers, with some sources speaking of as many as 500. These soldiers will be heavily armed and will likely be required to perform other tasks in connection with NATO.

The Dutch soldiers sent to protect the mission will after all be operating on the basis of Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, the section that authorises the use of violence. The UN resolutions that lay the basis for the international presence permit all measures necessary for the creation of a safe environment, including offensive actions. There will even be provided four F16 fighter planes which can be deployed in the war in a variety of ways as has been the case for a number of years. In the past we have seen a so-called reconstruction mission in the Uruzgan region metamorphose into a battle mission. We must not allow ourselves to be misled in the same way a second time.

A second reason to refrain from supporting a new mission is the fact that it would be tantamount to giving support to a thoroughly corrupt government that can count on hardly any backing from the Afghan people. President Karzai held on to power last year through open fraud, and with the support of warlords with blood on their hands has broadened the base of his power. And in last September’s parliamentary elections there were once again a large number of irregularities. The foreign armed forces have made the process worse by paying the warlords handsomely in return for security. The Dutch presence is part of the problem rather than having become part of the solution.

Recently the government informed Parliament about the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan. They recognise that the rise in the number of incidents is the result in part of the increase in international troops as well as Afghan security troops operating in areas which the Taliban formerly used as their base of operations. This analysis concurs with reports from the US Defence Department which note that the Karzai government enjoys the support of the population in general in only a quarter of the strategic districts. Elsewhere, the Afghans have more sympathy for the insurgents or are at best neutral. Violence is therefore increasing and the people’s support, not only for Karzai but for the foreign troops, is in decline. Karzai does, after all, derive his power to a large extent from the presence of these troops.

The new mission must fit in with the policy of the US government. President Obama has announced that his own troops will be withdrawn from the Summer of 2011 onwards. A plan regarding this is provoking heavy debate within the leadership of the US army and the rest of the security apparatus. The telephone call from President Obama to Premier Rutte a few days ago must have taken the form of a plea to the Netherlands to fit into the war in Afghanistan.

The Rutte government needs the opposition if it is to find a majority in Parliament to support this mission. The PVV has, like the SP, repeatedly declared its opposition to a new adventure in Afghanistan. Opposition parties the Green Left and the PvdA (Labour Party) also appear to have major objections to a mission which does any more than training police and army and that would provide the basis for a new mission, however narrow. It would also simply be better if for once our country were to say ‘no’ to NATO, because we have already stayed two years longer than originally planned and the results have been exceptionally poor. Ending the military contribution would also offer space to consider alternatives to this military intervention which has gradually revealed itself to be a failure. This would also be to do right by our soldiers who have pledged their commitment in good faith under difficult circumstances but in practice are saddled with an impossible mission.

This article first appeared, in Dutch, on 8th November 2010 in the regional daily Friesch Dagblad.

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