- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 8, 2006

The Netherlands will send 1,200-1,400 troops, complete with Apache helicopters and F-16 fighter jets for support, to Afghanistan’s southern Uruzgan Province.

The Dutch troops will be part of the first contingents of NATO forces going into the south of Afghanistan in the third phase of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF-III) operation in Afghanistan and will take over security assistance and reconstruction effort from U.S. troops now there as part of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).

Some commentators have doubts if Europeans can step up to the plate when the going gets tough in Afghanistan and NATO can take such a crucial step in its transformation from a Cold War posture to effectively operating in the new environment.

Southern Afghanistan is a dangerous place, but that’s precisely why we need troops over there. The Dutch armed forces are highly professional, well-equipped and experienced in peacekeeping and stabilization operations under difficult circumstances. They were among the five main troop contributors to the coalition in Iraq. Our Special Forces are on the ground in Kandahar, side-by-side with their U.S. counterparts and we have been operating a Provincial Reconstruction Team in northern Afghanistan since 2004.

Speaking of reconstruction, we have so far contributed more than $315 million to that goal in Afghanistan and, at last week’s Afghanistan conference in London, committed another $100 million for the next three years. We’re in for the long haul, both in terms of our military and our aid.

The Netherlands made its decision after careful preparation with our allies and a serious political debate. NATO taking over responsibilities in southern Afghanistan from the U.S.-led coalition is a big step for the Alliance. We wanted to make sure NATO allies saw the ISAF operation as a collective enterprise, not a coalition-of-the-willing under a NATO flag.

Our debate concentrated on the fundamental question whether our troops could effectively contribute to reconstruction under the prevailing security circumstances in southern Afghanistan. We also wanted clarity about the precise command structures when the NATO-led operation ISAF and the U.S.-led operation OEF start working in the same region, as well as guarantees about the treatment of prisoners in accordance with international law. All elements were satisfactorily resolved.

The importance of this careful process is that the final decision is supported by a strong majority in Dutch Parliament, including the major opposition party, and it has deepened NATO’s commitment to Afghanistan.

Countries such as the United Kingdom had already committed troops to ISAF-III. But you will now see other NATO and non-NATO countries joining the ranks of ISAF-III. Our debate and decision helped to clear a path for NATO to take the next step in its transformation to a global security alliance.

The United States and the European allies will stand by the people of Afghanistan and help them rebuild their country.

Boudewijn van Eenennaam is ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United States.

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