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Dutch government collapse: Will other European troops now leave Afghanistan?

The collapse of the Dutch government Saturday shows how unpopular the war in Afghanistan is in Europe. Will other European nations pull their troops out of Afghanistan earlier than planned?

By Staff writer / February 22, 2010

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende announces that the second largest party in his three-party alliance is quitting in The Hague on Saturday. Balkenende's coalition government collapsed on Saturday when the two largest parties failed to agree on whether to withdraw troops from Afghanistan this year as planned.

Reuters

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Paris

The collapse of the Dutch government this weekend, largely over keeping Dutch troops in Afghanistan, threatens to undermine the NATO mission in the central Asian nation. And, it may signal tougher political climes ahead for other European leaders supporting a troop presence in Afghanistan.

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The Dutch pullout, scheduled for August, comes at a time when NATO is undertaking a key offensive in Marjah and implementing a “hearts and minds” plan coordinated by the US administration.

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende met today with Queen Beatrix at the Hague, following the collapse Saturday of his ruling coalition. The government – Mr. Balkenende's fourth – broke up after the liberals would not accept Dutch troops in Afghanistan beyond an August deadline. Now, the 2,000-strong Dutch contingent of troops will withdraw as scheduled from Afghanistan's Uruzgan region.

The Dutch collapse brings concern of a domino effect: Can European leaders, who have been out in front of their publics on Afghanistan, continue anteing up – or will this withdrawal further sap a flagging political will across Europe for the mission?

In response to President Obama's request for more troops from NATO nations, some 5,300 additional troops were committed by supporting governments, mostly from Europe, according to figures from the Jan. 28 London Conference.

But polls last fall showed 75 percent of Britons and 86 percent of Germans opposed the idea. Since then, polls in Europe show growing public support (a majority in most NATO countries) for withdrawal from Afghanistan.

One of the arguments made by supporters of a European role in the Afghan mission, unlike Iraq, is that it must be grudgingly supported as a test of the credibility of NATO and the unity of Western security in the face of terrorist threats from Al Qaeda. And, most of the heroin sold in Europe comes from opium grown in Afghanistan.

But analysts say the Dutch case underscores sentiments in Europe that 2011 should be the start of a withdrawal. “This won’t have a major effect on what [Europeans] will do between now and 2011. But then 2011 is tomorrow. The only thing is to achieve something that will work for that period,” says François Heisbourg of the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris.

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