Friday, January 20, 2006

General Attacks American Record In Afghanistan

By David Rennie, in Brussels
London Daily Telegraph
January 20, 2006

Divisions within Nato over the "war on terror" burst into the open when the commander of Dutch forces launched an extraordinary public attack on the record of the American military in Afghanistan.

Gen Dick Berlijn said yesterday that four years of "unnecessarily harsh" American combat operations had brought "little or no" benefit to the restive south of the country, other than the toppling of the Taliban.

Holland's coalition government and parliament are locked in a bitter debate over whether to send 1,200 Dutch troops to join a new Nato mission of 6,000 troops in southern Afghanistan.

With Dutch memories of their military's disastrous involvement in the former Yugoslav conflict still raw, the row has threatened to topple the government. Britain is among those most keen to hear a final answer from The Hague, as the UK will command the new mission, which is supposed to involve some 6,000 troops.

If the Dutch parliament refuses, Nato will have to think again.

Gen Berlijn, the chief of the Netherlands defence staff, backed the sending of Dutch troops, saying they would bring sensitive peace-keeping skills to the operation. But in the same interview with the Dutch magazine Elsevier, he expressed grave concerns about the exact relationship on the ground between peacekeeping Nato forces and American combat forces engaged in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).

Dutch politicians have expressed fears that peacekeeping troops will come under attack from insurgents motivated by their loathing of American forces. The general did not dismiss such concerns outright, saying: "If it is necessary to hunt terrorists in an area, then the OEF commander will have to discuss this extremely carefully with the Nato commander.

"There must not be a situation in which we work on reconstruction one day and the bulldozers of the OEF flatten everything again the next."

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