h

Soldiers are in danger while politicians in The Hague chatter about a civilian mission

15 September 2011

Soldiers are in danger while politicians in The Hague chatter about a civilian mission

'If it swims like a duck, quacks like a duck and waggles like a duck, then I’d call it a duck. The Minister of Defence must have been thinking this when he spoke to Vrij Nederland.' SP Member of Parliament Harry van Bommel was referring, during this evening’s parliamentary debate with Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the Minister of Defence himself, to a recent interview given by the said minister, Hans Hillen to a leading Dutch political weekly. In the interview, Hillen said that it was ‘strange that the mission in Kunduz cannot be called a military mission.’

This is the full text of Harry van Bommel’s contribution to the debate:

'If it swims like a duck, quacks like a duck and waggles like a duck, then I’d call it a duck. The Minister of Defence must have been thinking this when he spoke to Vrij Nederland.' He said this not because in his own judgement he ‘is sometimes a naughty boy’, but because the so-called civilian police training mission in Afghanistan is of course simply a military mission, carried out by soldiers and with military methods. His words to the effect that it’s ‘strange that the mission in Kunduz cannot be called a military mission’ are, for the SP, heartfelt. We would be doing a lot of people an injustice if we were to describe matters in Kunduz other than how they are.

To start with, there are the Afghans in Kunduz themselves. They know better than anyone else that there is a war going on there. They want people who can take violent action. If necessary with considerable violence. To carry on as if this is a civilian mission is also to treat recruits as if they were fools. They’ll soon be doing work other than that represented to them by the Netherlands. That turns out to be also the practical reality in Kunduz right now.

Probably the worst aspect of this is the injustice done to the Dutch soldiers. They will soon be running the risk of losing their lives in battle situations while politicians in The Hague chat about a civilian mission. Twaddle, and not for the first time. The mission to Uruzgan could not be called a battle mission but must rather be termed a mission of reconstruction. Can the Minister of Defence confirm that this has had a negative effect on soldiers sent out there? They came into a completely different practical situation from that which was sketched out in The Hague. At the time this false impression was necessary to get the Labour Party on board. Now the Green Left must be persuaded to support a mission which can’t ever be what it has been claimed to be.

The opinion that Kunduz is a military mission is shared by people who are in the best position to know. The former chief of police, who was, you will recall, killed in an attack earlier this year in Kunduz, spoke in terms of war. The new police commandant, Samiullah Qatra talks of ‘permissible’ offensive actions. The Afghan Ministry of Internal Affairs says that it is impossible for police officers not to conduct military actions. According to the Dutch military trade unions, talk of a civilian mission is ‘Parliamentary bullshit’. They could as easily have said ‘bullshit from Premier Rutte’, because he has given his personal guarantee that this would indeed be a civilian mission.

All of these critics are right. The last few months have seen Afghan police officers acting together with US Marines in counter-guerrilla operations. This is definitely not civilian police work. Does the Minister of Defence acknowledge that police officers in Kunduz are currently being deployed on paramilitary tasks? Does he also recognise that very soon police officers trained by the Netherlands will come under the command of the police commandant in Kunduz and that the Netherlands will be unable to exert any influence on how these so-called police officers will be deployed?

With the training of what in reality are paramilitaries, the war in Afghanistan is being prolonged. It is for me a puzzle how the Green Left could vote for this when earlier they aimed for a cease-fire and negotiated peace. Was it the excitement of being invited to consult with the Prime Minister? Was it an attempt to qualify as a potential governmental party? We’ll never know. What we will however know very shortly is the difference between the appearance of reality here in The Hague and the hard reality in Kunduz. The SP parliamentary group wishes the Dutch soldiers and others who will be sent out there a safe stay and a safe return.

See also:

You are here