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Dutch PM Forecasts Afghan Pullout This Year


The prime minister of the Netherlands says he expects Dutch troops will leave Afghanistan on schedule later this year.

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende spoke on Dutch television, a day after his government collapsed after a main coalition partner said it could not support extending the Afghan deployment.

The country has nearly 2,000 troops serving mainly in Afghanistan's southern Uruzgan province. They are scheduled to leave in August.

The controversy over the Dutch deployment follows U.S. requests for NATO allies to commit more troops and resources to the Afghan war effort.

In southern Afghanistan, NATO and Afghan forces are continuing an offensive aimed at taking over a traditional Taliban stronghold. NATO troops said on Sunday they continue to face resistance in Marjah, but they are making steady progress.

The U.S. general who oversees the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq called the fighting in Marjah the opening battle in a long campaign.

General David Petraeus told NBC television the campaign probably will last 12 to 18 months.

The offensive is aimed at recapturing a Taliban stronghold and quickly deploying Afghan government and security forces to begin providing services for locals.

NATO officers have placed a priority on routing insurgents quickly and minimizing civilian casualties. At least 16 civilians have been killed since the beginning of the offensive. The fighting has also killed at least 12 NATO troops and about 120 insurgents.

On Saturday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai renewed his call for the Taliban to accept peace and join with the government.

Reuters news agency quotes a Taliban spokesman Sunday rejecting the offer, saying Mr. Karzai is only a puppet who cannot represent a nation or a government.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, Reuters.

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