Dutch troops leave Afghanistan

The Netherlands became the first NATO country to end its combat mission in Afghanistan, as it handed over its mission in southern Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province to U.S. and Australian forces.

At the peak of their commitment, the Dutch had nearly 2,000 troops in Afghanistan. Some staff units remain in Afghanistan, according to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, but the Dutch government said the last of its troops will return by December.

“The past four years brought the population of Uruzgan great improvements,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement Sunday. “Regrettably, the Netherlands is saddened by its 24 war casualties and 140 wounded.”

The Dutch government already had extended its mission by two years. Nato requested the Netherlands another extension of its mission, but the request triggered a political row that brought down the country’s coalition government in February.

According to the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the security situation has significantly improved, in the last four years.

“There are 1600 active police agents in Afghanistan, while in 2006 there was hardly any professional police. A growing number of social organizations that can operate in the province have evolved. Almost everyone has access to health care in Afghanistan. The number of schools has doubled since 2006. Approximately 53,000 children, including almost 7600 girls go to school. Improving the infrastructure in Uruzgan gave an enormous boost. ”

A Taliban spokesman told the Dutch newspaper that the group wanted to “wholeheartedly congratulate the citizens and government of the Netherlands” for pulling out its troops and urged others to follow suit.

Officials in Brussels insist the rest of the military alliance remains solid and note that the decision of the Dutch to go ahead with the withdrawal did not produce a chain reaction of other announcements about pull-outs.

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