The prime minister of the Netherlands has confirmed that his country is likely to end its involvement in the Afgan war as planned.
Jan Peter Balkenende had tried to have the mission extended at NATO’s request but his government collapsed on Saturday amid stiff opposition from his coalition partners.
He admitted on Sunday that unless there was a dramatic political U-turn at home, the mission would finish in August.
The 2,000 troop contingent is mainly based in Uruzgan province, right next to Helmand, the stage of the current massive military push against the Taliban.
Operation Moshtarak as it is called would be seriously undermined if insurgents fled into the void left by the Dutch.
Second in command in Uruzgan are the Australians but Canberra has ruled out assuming leadership there. Australian foreign minister Stephen Smith said on Sunday:
“In the absence of the Dutch, Australia has made it clear to NATO and to the International Security Assistance Forces that Australia is not in a position to take up the lead in Uruzgan province.”
Plugging the hole in Uruzgan is one thing. But nearly 3,000 Canadian troops are also due to withdraw next year and NATO could find itself with a major headache if domestic politics force other contributing countries to go Dutch and bring their soldiers home.