- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The United States and its NATO allies are making progress in Afghanistan but face a critical test of the alliance’s credibility from an expected spring offensive from the Islamist insurgency, Dutch Ambassador to the United States Christiaan Mark Johan Kroner said in an interview yesterday.

The U.S. and Dutch armies are among the few NATO countries carrying out the bulk of the military operations against resurgent Taliban and al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan’s restive south and east.

The 2,100-member Dutch force has taken command of the volatile southern sector from Canada, but several NATO powers have placed restrictions — known as “caveats” — on the deployment of their forces to Afghanistan’s more dangerous regions.

The war is a “critical test of NATO’s credibility,” Mr. Kroner said in a luncheon with editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

“If NATO does not succeed there, it will be a disaster — not just for Afghanistan and the region but for NATO itself,” the veteran Dutch diplomat said. “It would certainly be a blow to the credibility of the West to deal with a crisis.”

The Netherlands, which also supported the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, approved the Afghanistan mission after a lengthy parliamentary debate. Mr. Kroner said public support for the deployment remains strong.

The Dutch mandate for the mission ends in August 2008, and the debate within NATO circles “does not leave me very hopeful right now” that other countries in the 27-nation alliance will step up, he said.

Despite the challenges, Mr. Kroner said, significant political and military progress has been made in Afghanistan, even with a surge in violence. He said the Dutch force has focused on fighting the Taliban and promoting development.

“Yes, I do believe we have had real success in Afghanistan. If there is a spring offensive, NATO will be prepared for it.”

Mr. Kroner, who arrived in Washington last summer after five years in Paris, will mark a major milestone tomorrow: the 225th anniversary of U.S.-Dutch diplomatic relations.

Before he became the nation’s second president, Ambassador John Adams negotiated the first formal recognition treaty for the new United States with Holland in 1782 and secured a badly needed loan for the war against Britain. Mr. Kroner said relations between Washington and The Hague remain strong.

The ambassador said his small, densely populated country faces many of the demographic questions plaguing Western Europe, notably the struggle to assimilate a large and growing Muslim immigrant population.

“It is perhaps the question for the Netherlands today,” he said. “Ours is a country with a worldwide reputation for tolerance, but we have learned the hard way that tolerance does not automatically mean integration.”

The political establishment in the Netherlands has been rocked by the rise of populist anti-immigration parties and by the 2004 assassination of a well-known filmmaker by a Dutch Islamist.

Mr. Kroner acknowledged the country’s problems, but said the Netherlands also has made significant strides in easing the isolation of the country’s Muslims and promoting Dutch-born Muslims into positions of power in federal and local government.

“The largest part of our Muslim population favors dialogue against terrorism, wants to be part of Dutch society,” he said. “It is just a small sector that causes trouble.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide