INTERNATIONAL: Canadians & Dutch Side
Nov 15, 2006

On 1 November 2006, Canada turned over the command of NATO troops in southern Afghanistan to the Netherlands. Dutch General Ton van Loon has taken over from Canadian General David Fraser, and has roughly 9,800 British, American, Canadian and Dutch troops serving under him in southern Afghanistan.

When Dutch foreign minister Bernard Bot visited International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters in Kandahar in May, he encountered Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Peter MacKay. They promised that their NATO units would come to each other’s aid if necessary. MacKay promised that they would keep a watchful eye on each other, and help immediately if the need arose. And it did – all too soon – in Afghanistan’s ­turbulent south.

Dutch ground forces temporarily took over the Martello advance base in September so that the Canadian Task Force could free up troops for Operation Medusa, a big NATO and Afghan offensive against the Taliban.

Dutch units also provided air support to the Canadians. In September, the Dutch assisted a Canadian convoy that was stranded near Camp Martello and under fire from missiles. The Canadians in turn provided support when a Dutch patrol in Uruzgan came under fire. As Dutch defence minister Henk Kamp told the press in August, “Southern Afghani­stan is a job we’re doing together. We help each other when we need to.”

The Dutch ISAF Camp in southern Afghanistan.

Since the ISAF troops were deployed in the south in spring 2006, the Dutch and Canadians have also been working closely together in other ways. The Dutch ISAF commander’s priority in southern Afghanistan is to make the different participating countries’ operations mesh well. In addition to the extensive forces sent by the US, the UK, Canada and the Netherlands, there are also troops from Denmark, Estonia, Romania and Australia stationed in the south.

Long-term support
Afghanistan is counting on long-term ­support from the international community in order to put the country back on its feet after decades of civil war. The Netherlands offered its support immediately after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, based on the view that rapid reconstruction would contribute to stability, since people who experience the advantages of peace will be less inclined to resort to war.

The Dutch logic is that security and stability are necessary preconditions for development. For this reason, Dutch efforts in conflict-prone countries and regions are not guided by development experts alone, but are linked to political, military and economic programmes. This 3-D integrated approach – Defence, Development and Diplomacy – is needed to achieve enduring peace, security and development. The Dutch ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs therefore work together in making policy for Afghanistan. In terms of development cooperation, the work of military personnel, diplomats and development staff is fully coordinated.

UN Mandate: to Protect
By Bernard Bot, Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs

For the people of the Netherlands, Canada equals freedom. The Netherlands and Canada share common values which root deep in our histories. Canadian soldiers gave their lives to give the Dutch nation its freedom. Canada liberated our country.

Now, over 60 years later, at the invitation of the Afghan government, we are standing shoulder to shoulder in a mission to help the Afghan people win a better future. This is a mission with a UN mandate to protect the international legal order and prevent Afghanistan from once more becoming a base of ­operations for terrorists. Stability and reconstruction in Afghanistan are important for Afghanistan; but they also contribute to greater security for Canada, the Netherlands and the rest of the world.

This mission is taking place under difficult conditions. NATO troops experienced this first hand in recent months ­during Operation Medusa, an important, extensive military operation in Kandahar that was in fact the largest land operation in the history of the NATO alliance. The Netherlands took part in it by giving air support and temporarily making reserves available.

Dutch participants at every level of this mission have the highest respect for what the Canadians are doing. We deeply regret the Canadian casualties and wish to offer our sympathy to their next of kin.

On 1 November 2006, the Netherlands assumed command at Regional Command South. Dutch General Van Loon has taken over from the Canadian General Fraser. He will have big shoes to fill because Canada has set a high standard. The last several months have been a model of Dutch-Canadian cooperation on the ground.

The key to success in conflict-torn countries like Afghanistan is the overall political framework that gives logic and coherence to our political, military and developmental efforts. I call this the trinity of politics, security and development – referring to Clausewitz’s trinity of army, people and government. Clausewitz’s business was war; our business is to make peace.

The success of the ISAF mission as a whole depends on its multi-dimensional character. Afghanistan can only develop successfully by enabling its soldiers, diplomats, police and development workers to do their work, in parallel processes, and help the Afghans stabilize and rebuild their country.

The international community has given Afghanistan its word. We are determined to reach our goal. We will not let ­anything stop us. For this mission to succeed, winning the Afghans’ trust is essential.

The Netherlands responded favourably to Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s urgent appeal for long-term help. The Dutch soldiers in ISAF – there are between 1400 and 1800 of them – will stay until at least 2008. Political advisers from the Dutch foreign ministry are posted with the military units. And the Netherlands is contributing funds from its development cooperation budget to help rebuild Afghanistan.

The Netherlands gave emergency aid to Afghanistan, one of the world’s poorest countries, as early as the 1990s. An average of 20 million guilders (roughly $15 million Canadian dollars at the time) went each year to UN agencies, the Red Cross and aid organizations. After the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan became a partner country for Dutch development cooperation, a guarantee of long-term involvement. However, this was not only for humanitarian reasons. Stability in the whole region around Afghanistan, from neighbouring Pakistan and Iran to the Central Asian republics, is very important to the Netherlands. Prosperity and democracy can help prevent new conflicts. That explains the substantial Dutch contribution to ISAF and at the same time, Dutch efforts to reduce poverty in order to prevent radicalization in Afghanistan.

Military Efforts
In the last few years, the Netherlands has contributed troops to Operation Enduring Freedom, the international coalition under US leadership. The Dutch took part with planes, helicopters, ships and Special Forces in the fight against terrorism. Upon joining the NATO mission, the Dutch role in Enduring Freedom came to an end.

The Netherlands has been playing an important role in building up ISAF continuously since 2002. The Dutch role began with an army contingent plus staff at the various headquarters. In 2003 the Dutch and Germans set up a joint ISAF headquarters. A year later, the Dutch sent an Apache helicopter detachment to Kabul and a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) to Baghlan; and in 2005 a Dutch F-16 detachment arrived. All in all, the Netherlands is an important factor in ISAF. NATO’s foremost civilian representative in Afghanistan is also Dutch: the diplomat Daan Everts, who brings to the job his considerable experience at the UN and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Dutch Panzer Division on patrol in Afghanistan.

The Netherlands now has over 1,600 troops stationed in the southern province of Uruzgan, who are working to make it secure for reconstruction. Some of the Dutch troops make up the PRT, which operates from two bases. The largest is Tarin Kowt, where about 1,000 Dutch and 360 Australian troops have made camp. About 200 troops work at the smaller base, Deh Rawod. Another 400 Dutch are stationed at the base in Kandahar. Six Apache fighter helicopters, five Cougar helicopters and F-16 fighter planes support the troops in southern Afghanistan. The Dutch Royal Military and Border Police have sent personnel to Uruzgan to train Afghan police.

Dutch troops rely on an ‘inkblot’ strategy. With support from ISAF troops, the Afghan army creates safe areas where local government can exercise its authority so that reconstruction can begin. The strategy is designed to ensure rapid, ­visible improvements by restoring basic infrastructure, bridges, schools, mosques, drinking water facilities and health care. This model can spread like an ‘inkblot’ to more remote areas. But Afghans in Uruzgan’s outlying areas have not been abandoned to their fate. The Dutch ­foreign ministry has earmarked development funds for ‘quick, visible projects’ in areas that are not yet under the full ­control of the ISAF.

Uruzgan PRT
The Uruzgan PRT can draw on the experience of the Dutch PRT that has been operational for two years in the northern province of Baghlan. By patrolling regularly and being visible even in the most remote parts of the province, the PRT helped bring relative stability to Baghlan, so that its people could confidently plan again for the future.

Bird’s eye view, patrolling over Afghanistan.

Since the Afghans have seen many foreign troops come and go in the course of their turbulent history, the Dutch troops’ key task was to win the population’s trust. They invested a great deal of time in making contacts with Baghlan’s inhabitants, local authorities and unofficial leaders, including clerics. By winning people’s trust, they not only laid foundations for development work but also increased their own safety. A positive start was made in Baghlan by disarming militias, training the police and army, and reforming local government. Much hard work was also done building and repairing roads, bridges, irrigation systems, schools and developing facilities for drinking water and electricity.

The PRT has always involved local Afghan administrators in all its work, because they are the ones who will ­ultimately have to take over. When the Dutch left in September, and Hungarian troops took over the Baghlan PRT, the Dutch commander, Peter de Harder, noted with satisfaction that the region had experienced an economic revival: “Visitors who haven’t been in Baghlan for a while can see that economic activity has increased. There’s a noticeable growth in trade. We’re seeing more and more trucks on the road.”

In Uruzgan too, the Dutch military presence is designed to enable the Afghan government to exercise its authority, so that eventually, the international force will no longer be needed. The Dutch unit’s method is sometimes called ‘the Dutch approach’ – it combines respect for the Afghans with an understanding of their religion and local customs, and endeavours to make the least aggressive impression possible.

It’s crucial to ensure that every success in Uruzgan is an Afghan success, so the Dutch troops always act in tandem with the Afghan police or army.

The troops have a modest budget for carrying out small projects. In this way they can demonstrate that they are there to help, and pay attention to the Afghans’ wishes and needs (winning hearts and minds). For example, a team of American doctors and Dutch medical personnel care for Afghan patients in a building just outside the Deh Rawod camp. In addition, the PRT is starting up a Medical Civilian Assistance Programme, so that medical care, for and by Afghans, is guaranteed after the ISAF troops have left.

Reconstruction efforts
The basic Dutch approach to Afghan reconstruction is: ‘by military means where necessary, by civilian means where possible.’ Rapid assistance is also important to prevent the Taliban from gaining supporters. The Afghan government and local and international organizations – not the troops – do the actual reconstruction work. The Netherlands has contributed about 300 million euros (about C$425 million) to reconstruction in recent years, most of which has gone to the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund.

Dutch pens and paper are distributed among Afghans.

The Dutch foreign ministry has posted two development advisers in Uruzgan. They select reconstruction ­projects for funding in consultation with the provincial ­government and the non-governmental organizations that will be implementing the projects. The Netherlands has also posted two political advisers with the ISAF troops in Uruzgan and Kandahar, who consult with local government and civil society organizations.

At the big donor conference in London in early 2006, the international community and the Afghan government agreed on cooperation: the Afghanistan Compact. They agreed that all illegal armed groups must be dismantled in the next two years, civil servants must be appointed on the basis of merit instead of personal background or connections, every province must have a functioning security and legal system, and 38,000 ­villages will receive development aid. The donors pledged about U$10 billion (more than C$11 billion) in the next five years.

The European Union is closely involved in the Afghan reconstruction process. It donates substantial sums for emergency and reconstruction aid (a total of about 800 million euros (about C$1.3 billion) from member states and the European Commission in 2004), intended chiefly for health care, rural development, infrastructure, police reform, mine clearing and public administration.

The Canadians and Dutch are also involved in the Policy Action Group, which is an advisory body. Here, President Karzai regularly discusses the situation in the south with the most directly involved Afghan ministers, the UN, the ISAF and Operation Enduring Freedom commanders, and the ambassadors of the four countries with large troop contingents in the South (the UK, Canada, the US, and the Netherlands). The Policy Action Group devises strategies to improve security, reconstruction and communication with the people of southern Afghanistan.

Fight and Rebuild
Early this year the Chief of the Dutch Defence Staff, General Dick Berlijn, addressed the troops as they were leaving for Uruzgan. “The US-led Operation Enduring Freedom was necessary,” he said, “but now in southern Afghanistan, we need a different approach. We need to focus on rebuilding the country, without forgetting that we will take military action where military action is needed. This is ISAF’s focus. It has the experience it needs to combine reconstruction with a military approach when that’s what the situation calls for. In a complicated country like Afghanistan, there’s not a black-and-white choice between fighting and rebuilding. You have to be prepared to fight, but above all show the Afghans that rebuilding is the main goal. And that’s exactly what we’ll be focusing on in the next phase.”

This article was prepared by the Communications Departments of the Netherlands Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs.
© FrontLine Defence 2006