Dutch Cabinet approves troops to Afghanistan, but parliament keeps silence

The Dutch Cabinet approved sending as many as 1,400 troops to a high-risk NATO mission in southern Afghanistan, but said it would seek the endorsement of a deeply divided parliament. Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said Monday that the cabinet was recommending the mission to help stabilize Afghanistan and rebuild the nation after decades of war. Parliamentary approval is far from certain, with objections coming from the legislators of Democrats-66, the smallest of the three parties in the governing coalition. A decision is expected in January. The referral to parliament was an unusual step, since the Cabinet has the authority to deploy troops without a parliamentary vote.

But the issue became sensitive after military intelligence warned that the soldiers could be exposed to attacks by a resurgent Taliban and could suffer heavy casualties. Also weighing heavily on the parties as they head toward election in 2007 was the public discontent when the government sent troops to Iraq.

Failure to contribute troops to NATO's expansion to southern Afghanistan, which the Dutch had initially had promised, could severely tarnish its standing in the alliance. "We are indicating what the Cabinet wants, and this is a decision supported by the entire Cabinet," said Balkenende. But he said the government was open to a broad debate about the mission and that a final decision would not be taken until after parliament has spoken, reports the AP. N.U.

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