- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan — A roadside bomb attack on a patrol of Dutch soldiers killed the son of the Netherlands’ top military officer yesterday, a day after his father took command of the country’s armed forces, officials said.

Lt. Dennis van Uhm, 23, was one of two Dutch soldiers killed in the explosion seven miles northwest of Camp Holland, the Dutch military base in restive Uruzgan province, spokesman Lt. Gen. Freek Meulman said. A Taliban spokesman took responsibility for the attack.

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende called Lt. van Uhm’s death “an unprecedented tragedy” and said the weekly Dutch Cabinet meeting was briefly halted so ministers could reflect privately.

There was no immediate comment from Gen. Peter van Uhm, who took up a new job as the overall commander of the Dutch military in a ceremony outside parliament in The Hague on Thursday.

“This morning I asked General van Uhm, the military commander, to concentrate on his personal situation,” Defense Minister Eimert van Middelkoop told reporters at a hastily called press conference in the Netherlands. “The contrast between yesterday’s festivities [and the mourning later] could not be starker.”

The Dutch are fighting alongside U.S., British and Canadian troops at the forefront of NATO’s battles with the Taliban and other insurgents in southern Afghanistan. Other NATO nations such as Germany, Italy and Spain are based in the relatively safe north and west and have been criticized for not sending their combat troops to help out in a fight.

Yesterday’s casualties bring the death toll of Dutch soldiers to 16 since the Netherlands began contributing combat forces to the NATO mission in Afghanistan in August 2006. The Dutch have 1,650 troops in southern Afghanistan.

The attack came a day after a suicide attack in southwestern Nimroz province killed 24 people.

Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Taliban, took responsibility for yesterday’s blast, and said the militants will continue their attacks on the Dutch troops.

Mr. Ahmadi said the militants knew in advance about Lt. van Uhm’s movements. “When he came out, the Taliban planted a mine, which killed him,” he said in a phone call from an undisclosed location.

Gen. Meulman dismissed that possibility. “There is no reason to believe that the roadside bomb attack was directed at Lt. van Uhm,” he said.

The Dutch parliament debated for months before supporting the government’s decision to send troops to Uruzgan province, one of the strongholds of the Taliban.

The mission gained grudging public support because it was intended to mix its fighting with reconstruction of roads, schools and hospitals.

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