- - Sunday, August 1, 2010

AFGHANISTAN

Dutch troops first to quit Afghanistan

KABUL | The Netherlands became the first NATO country to end its combat mission in Afghanistan, drawing the curtain Sunday on a four-year operation that was deeply unpopular at home and even brought down a Dutch government.

The departure of the small force of nearly 1,900 Dutch troops is not expected to affect conditions on the ground. But it is politically significant because it comes at a time of rising casualties and growing doubts about the war in NATO capitals, even as allied troops are beginning what could be the decisive campaign of the war.

Canada has announced it will withdraw its 2,700 troops in 2011, and Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski has promised to pull out his country’s 2,600 soldiers the year after.

That is likely to put pressure on other European governments, such as Germany and Britain, to scale back their forces, adding to the burden shouldered by the United States, which expects to have 100,000 troops here by the end of next month.

President Obama has pledged to begin withdrawing American troops starting in July 2011. But Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told ABC’s “This Week” broadcast Sunday that only a small number of troops would leave in the initial stage.

IRAQ

July deadliest month for Iraqis since 2008

BAGHDAD | July was Iraq’s deadliest month in more than two years, according to new official figures, suggesting that a resilient insurgency is successfully taking advantage of the months of deadlock in forming a new government.

The figures released late Saturday show that 535 people were killed last month, the highest since May 2008 when 563 died, heightening concerns over Iraq’s precarious security situation even as the U.S. troops are reducing their numbers.

The U.S. military vehemently rejected the casualty numbers Sunday afternoon, however, countering that its own data showed that only 222 Iraqis were killed in July. “We do our very best to be vigilant to ensure the numbers we report are as accurate as can be,” spokesman Lt. Col. Bob Owen said.

The military’s rejection of the Iraqi figures, compiled by the ministries of defense, interior and health, comes at a delicate time. The American military has pronounced Iraq’s security as stabilizing and is going ahead with plans to send home all but 50,000 troops by the end of the month.

The increase in violence has been linked to insurgent attempts to destabilize the country as it struggles to sort out the inconclusive results of national elections nearly five months ago.

The political impasse deepened this weekend, when a Shiite bloc nominally allied with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s coalition publicly announced its rejection of his candidacy for a second term in office.

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