Dutch government collapses over Afghanistan

The Dutch governing coalition has collapsed over whether to extend the Netherland’s military presence in Afghanistan.  Just under 2000 Dutch military personnel serve in Afghanistan, mainly in the southern Uruzgan province, and Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende of the Christian Democratic Party was considering a NATO request to extend the military mission beyond August. The Labor Party, the second largest coalition partner, opposes the extension. Twenty-one Dutch soldiers have been killed in the Afghan conflict.

The fall of the Dutch coalition government was announced after a 16-hour crisis meeting of the cabinet at the Hague.

Radio Netherlands reported that the Labor Party leader Wouter Bos drew a line over the NATO request for extending the Dutch mission and decided to quit. In 2007, the Dutch government extended the Afghanistan mission by two years. But the criticism of the Netherlands’ support for the invasion of Iraq by an independent inquiry in early January only reinforced the Labor Party’s resolve.

The prospect of the Netherlands pulling out of Uruzgan is a source of irritation at the NATO headquarters in Brussels and in Washington. And there is speculation the country risks losing its seat at the G20 meetings.

People in the Netherlands are sharply divided over their military involvement in the Afghan war. According to the results of a survey announced two weeks ago, while 49 percent of respondents expressed support for the Afghan mission, 45 percent opposed.

The Independent newspaper says the fall of the government all but guarantees that ‘the 2000 Dutch troops will be brought home this year and will eventually prompt new parliamentary elections’ in the Netherlands. The Labor withdrawal leaves the governing coalition with just 47 seats in the 150-member parliament. Elections can be held as early as May under Dutch law.

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