Dutch lawmakers approve Afghan training mission

AMSTERDAM Fri Jan 28, 2011 8:52am IST

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AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The minority Dutch government won parliamentary support on Friday for a small police training mission in Afghanistan, a year after the previous government fell over the question of whether to withdraw troops.

Losing the parliamentary vote would have been a blow for Prime Minister Mark Rutte's minority Liberal-Christian Democrat government ahead of provincial elections in March. Those elections help determine the make-up of the Dutch Senate.

Rutte eventually convinced three small opposition parties, the left-leaning Greens, Christian Union and Democrat 66, to support the deployment, personally guaranteeing he would keep the mission within its agreed limits.

"The reason is not America. The reason is not a seat at the G20," Rutte told MPs. "It is not exclusively a rational decision ... you have to feel it."

"This is a mission I also want. I guarantee the agreements we've made. I guarantee I will be honest with you about the things that don't go right even if that will have consequences."

Polls show a majority of voters are opposed to the mission.

The previous government in the Netherlands fell a year ago over whether to pull troops out of Afghanistan, and within months Dutch forces were repatriated -- a move some analysts said reduced the nation's international profile.

The Netherlands lost 24 soldiers killed in its previous deployment in Afghanistan. It was one of the first NATO countries to send its troops to the dangerous south.

CRUCIAL CONCESSIONS

To gain backing for the new mission, Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal assured lawmakers the government would obtain a firm promise from the Afghan government that police recruits trained by the Dutch would not be used in military operations.

The government also agreed to more than double the length of training of Afghan police recruits in the northern province of Kunduz to 18 weeks to improve the quality of the training.

Recruits will also be trained on civil aspects such as human, women's and children's rights, and issues of integrity.

Despite the concessions, the anti-Islam Freedom Party of Geert Wilders, which normally supports the government, opposed the mission, as did Labour, the largest opposition party.

Their opposition was not enough, however, and a total of 545 men and women will be now deployed, including police and military trainers, soldiers and military command specialists.

The mission is due to become fully operational in May.

(Reporting by Aaron Gray-Block)

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