How Dutch Withdrawal Changes Afghan War

The Netherlands pulls 1,950 soldiers

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The Netherlands has withdrawn its force of 1,950 soldiers from Afghanistan, signaling one of the first major withdrawals of a Western power from the country. The Dutch force constituted the NATO command in Oruzgan province of central Afghanistan and has seen significant fighting, losing 24 soldiers in their four-year engagement. Here is what their withdrawal, which comes after significant domestic political backlash against the war, means for the Afghan conflict.

  • Why Dutch Force Was Especially Important  NightWatch's John McReary explains, "Netherlands forces were among a handful of US allies -- NATO plus Australia and New Zealand -- that have rules of engagement that permit combat operations against the Taliban. ... The significance of their departure is larger than the number of soldiers who will leave because the Dutch were authorized to engage in offensive combat."
  • Dutch Enjoyed Success, But Enough?  War Is Boring's Andrew Balcombe reports, "Today Uruzgan province is mostly safe around the main population centers, a far cry from when the Dutch first came here four years ago. The Dutch troops have worked hard to establish good relations with the local population and, when they must, they and their Australian counterparts have fought, died and been maimed and injured along with their Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police comrades. ... Despite their efforts, it is estimated that the Taliban still control 30 percent of the province."
  • Will It Lead to Other NATO Withdrawals?  The Christian Science Monitor's Robert Marquand appraises, "Neither the official withdrawal of Dutch forces from Afghanistan on Aug. 1 nor the revelations by WikiLeaks on war operations appears yet to be a game-changer in Paris, Berlin, or London. The Afghan war has been unpopular in all three places for several years. But the main policy of the main US NATO allies remains one of endurance with the hope of withdrawal as soon as a credible strategy is found. ... 'I was surprised there was not more attention to the Dutch withdrawal,' says a German Green party consultant. 'It’s not being discussed much. We now have a good critical debate. But I don’t hear anyone saying withdraw soon.'"
  • The Iraq Precedent  World Politics Review's Richard Weitz recalls, "The decision by the Netherlands to become the first NATO country to withdraw its entire military contingent from Afghanistan could plausibly increase pressure on other European governments to curtail their own unpopular military deployments there. Once Spain and the Netherlands withdrew their troops from Iraq, for example, many other countries followed suit, eventually leaving American troops as the only significant foreign military presence in the country. The same pattern could easily occur in Afghanistan in coming years."
  • In Long War, Success for Taliban  NightWatch's John McReary adds, "One US news commentator assessed that the Dutch are the first NATO national contingent to withdraw. More pertinent, is the fact that the Dutch represent the first foreign invasion force the Taliban have succeeded in out-waiting, not defeating, but out-waiting. Their departure will serve as a validation of the Taliban long term strategy of outlasting the foreigners and a recruitment appeal: the Taliban will be around after the foreigners have left."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.