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Netherlands Has Its Own Afghan Exit Strategy

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Netherlands Has Its Own Afghan Exit Strategy

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Netherlands Has Its Own Afghan Exit Strategy

Netherlands Has Its Own Afghan Exit Strategy

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At the NATO summit, President Obama is likely to win a lot of praise for his new plan for Afghanistan. However, he may not win too many new commitments from allies. The Netherlands is heavily invested in Afghanistan, but its troops are pulling out in 2010.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

As we heard a moment ago, some analysts praise the Netherlands for its military performance in Afghanistan. That does not necessarily mean that the Dutch public is thrilled with the mission or that the government will keep supporting it. NPR's Michele Kelemen paid a visit to the Netherlands to watch its troops train.

MICHELE KELEMEN: On a wooded base near the central Dutch city of Stroo(ph), about 40 marines are trained to imagine what they soon may face in a very different environment, a dangerous part of south central Afghanistan.

(Soundbite of vehicle engines)

KELEMEN: In this training exercise, they swoop into an imaginary village on armored personnel carriers and try to stop the production of improvised explosive devices, a deadly weapon they're likely to encounter. Most of the 18 Dutch servicemen killed in Afghanistan so far have been the victims of IED attacks. Army Major Rob Sentse, who has twice served in Afghanistan, is overseeing this training course.

Major ROB SENTSE (Royal Netherlands Army): There's an IED facilitator which was hiding in a village on which we got the intel package. Right now, you see that one of the guys is taking a prisoner.

KELEMEN: Nearby, Dutch troops practice how to evacuate a wounded soldier. A helicopter kicks up a dust and sandstorm, and Sentse jokes that the troops have to get used to that as well.

Maj. SENTSE: This is nothing compared with the things you see in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, you see a total mess. You don't see anything anymore.

KELEMEN: Major Sentse says the Dutch forces are learning not only how to work together as a team with other military men and women, but also with civilian experts. Their mission is to safeguard the Afghan population in Uruzgan in southern Afghanistan to allow for some development work.

Maj. SENTSE: One of the biggest problems we face in Uruzgan is that we don't have that much troops on the ground to provide (unintelligible) achievements we'd like to achieve.

KELEMEN: But there is no talk of expanding this operation, which doesn't have much public support in the Netherlands. In fact, there's an end date for these 1,700 Dutch troops there: August 2010. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was here for a conference on Afghanistan, made clear that she'd like to see the Dutch troops stay longer.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (State Department): It has been extraordinarily successful, and, in fact, our strategic review is building on many of the ideas and the principles that were brought to bear by the Dutch in Afghanistan. But, of course, any decision in the future is up to the people of the Netherlands and their government.

KELEMEN: Like Clinton, the Dutch talk about the 3-D approach: defense, diplomacy and development. Foreign ministry officials are well integrated into the military operation in Uruzgan officials say, and Lieutenant Colonel Hertion Coy(ph) says they're always looking for the right balance between military and civilian work.

Lieutenant Colonel HERTION COY (Royal Netherlands Army): If you want to do development, you need defense, but if you want to bring only defense, it won't work. You need to show people that if the area is safe, we can do development. That's why we do it.

KELEMEN: There are still plenty of bad actors to worry about in Uruzgan, from drug gangs to the Taliban. And Coy says it's been a challenge to win over the population there. But he says Afghans who were intimidated by the Taliban before are starting to come to Dutch offices more often now to get development aid for their villages.

Lt. Col. COY: That's what we are trying to do, make the Taliban irrelevant. And that's what we're trying to do. And it's working.

KELEMEN: The Dutch have been paying local Afghan's to build the schools and roads. The motto is to put an Afghan face on everything. That seems to be the exit strategy, as well.

Michelle Kelemen, NPR News, the Netherlands.

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