Afghan leaders appealed to the Netherlands for Dutch support

Afghan leaders appealed to the Netherlands Monday for Dutch support for extending NATO's reach deep into the risky areas of southern Afghanistan, three days before a divided Dutch parliament votes on whether to contribute up to 1,400 troops to the mission. The Dutch government has agreed to join a new NATO mission in the province of Uruzgan, but parliament is divided and public support is weak.

Political disagreement, even within the ruling coalition, has held up a decision for months, with opponents citing the high risk of casualties and supporters highlighting the need to contribute to international counterterrorism efforts and Afghan reconstruction.

Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, en route to a critical two-day donors meeting in London, outlined Afghanistan's progress in the four years since a U.S.-led military coalition ousted the Taliban government and drove leaders of the Al-Qaida terrorist movement into mountain hideouts. The Dutch now have a peacekeeping team in northern Afghanistan and a small commando unit with the separate American-led counterterrorism forces.

"You should be proud of your contribution because it is a success story," Abdullah told the parliament's Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense. "But the story is not over."

The new NATO force will expand the number of troops of the International Security Assistance Force from 9,000 to 16,000 in the coming six months to allow the United States to pull out some of its military.

The parliamentary committee scheduled more than 12 hours of hearings, much of it closed to the public. NATO's top military commander, U.S. Gen. James L. Jones also was due to appear.

Abdullah and Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak played down the dangers in the southern province of Uruzgan, where the Dutch forces are due to be sent.

"The Taliban and al-Qaida don't have a base in Uruzgan," Wardak said. "But from time to time they have managed to attack." In recent months they had staged one suicide bombing and seven rocket attacks in Uruzgan, he said, reports the AP. I.L.

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