Dutch tally cost of Afghanistan
by Globe and Mail
But for the Dutch there has been a lot of emphasis on treasure.
The enormous cost of the military mission — the biggest for the Netherlands since the Second World War — is a top of mind issue you hear from almost everyone here when Afghanistan is mentioned.
“We are a thrifty people,” said Dick Pels, a political commentator and author from the University of Amsterdam.
“It's a big cost. Our military has been weighing down under the increasing expenses of this operation.”
Much of the Dutch resentment over the refusal of other European NATO members to contribute troops to volatile southern Afghanistan has been framed in financial terms, with complaints about how expensive equipment is being ground up and will have to be replaced.
“It is very crowded up there in the north” of Afghanistan, said retired Major-General Frankl van Kappen, of the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies.
“Everyone wants to be up there handing out oranges and school books, but it is empty in the south.”
It's estimated the two-year deployment of 1,800 troops, fighter aircraft and helicopters will cost the Netherlands $1.4-billion by August 2008, when the current mandate expires. The government is expected to say next month whether the mission to Uruzgan — north of Kandahar — will be extended.
In contrast, it's estimated Canada's military involvement in Afghanistan from 2002 until the expiry of the current mandate in 2009 will be roughly $6.3-billion. An extra $1.2-billion is being spent by the Canadian International Development Agency on reconstruction.
There has been hardly a peep in Canada about cost.
Instead, the debate has been more focused on casualties, detainee treatment and whether the country should have taken on such a dangerous assignment in Kandahar in the first place.
Mr. Pels said every Dutch casualty — 11 in all — has been front page news, but it has been tempered by the acceptance that soldiers are fighting a war.
The opposition GreenLeft party in the Netherlands has advanced many of the same human rights and development arguments as Canada's New Democrats and Liberals, but there is a deeper sense of burden here.
For the Dutch, the mission in Uruzgan is partly about atonement, a national effort to exorcise the ghost of a bloody and disastrous peacekeeping mission in the 1990s.
In Bosnia, Dutch peacekeepers were forced to stand by while Serb forces slaughtered 7,000 Muslim men in Srebrenica.
“It was a trauma for us,” Mr. Pels said.
“We were determined to never let it happen again. We look at the mission in Uruzgan as though we are protecting moderate Muslims from their more radical counterparts.”
There is also a more hard-headed aspect to the debate when it comes to terrorism. Two high-profile murders of over a half dozen linked to radical Islamists have solidified the threat in the minds of most Dutch.
“The sense that radical Islam is a threat and that the multi-cultural idea is a failure has become more deeply realized in the Netherlands than in Canada,” Mr. Pels said.
But that doesn't mean the Dutch are kicking down doors in Uruzgan. In fact, many allies have criticized the fighting style of the Netherlands. The Dutch often have stayed out of villages where they are not invited and prefer to concentrate on reconstruction — an approach that appeals to New Democrats in Canada.
But there has been a subtle shift in attitudes, if not tactics.
“We didn't want to see that there are actually people in the world that want to kill other people because of nationalistic or religious reasons,” Mr. Pels said.
“Now we are facing the threat by radical Islam and we were not prepared until very recently to realize, or face up to the idea that there are people who want to kill us.”