The Dutch parliament is expected to vote late Thursday in favor of sending troops to southern Afghanistan. NATO's Dutch Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, says a Dutch decision to send troops would send an important signal of unity in the alliance.
Meeting with French and American reporters in Paris, NATO chief de Hoop Scheffer said the decision to send Dutch forces to southern Afghanistan is important symbolically, as well as practically.
"This is an operation where solidarity in the alliance is of importance. This is an alliance - NATO - based on solidarity," he said. "And if you take the political decision to assist the Afghan government, to prevent [it from becoming] the big black hole it was during the Taleban regime, a sponsor of terrorism. Don't forget, 9/11 and the people who came from 9/11 were trained in Afghanistan. We don't want that situation to happen again."
The Dutch troops will join a 6,000-strong force in southern Afghanistan, tasked with establishing security, helping with reconstruction and fighting the drug trade. Last week, Britain also has agreed to send 3,000 troops to the region.
The Dutch have been skeptical about sending forces for a number of reasons, including the fact that NATO is taking on new responsibilities in fighting Taleban forces in southern Afghanistan. De Hoop Scheffer acknowledged the mission would be dangerous, but he said the alternatives were also dangerous.
"If we fail, the consequences of terrorism will land on our doorstep," he added. "Be it in Belgium, Amsterdam, the United States or wherever."
De Hoop Scheffer also talked about new areas NATO has ventured into recently, including its earthquake relief operation in Pakistan that ended earlier this week.
NATO has also been involved in training Iraqi police, as well as training efforts to help African Union troops based in Sudan's Darfur region. But ultimately, he said, NATO's core mission is to defend its values, and that, he says poses as much of a challenge in Afghanistan as during the Cold War.