Dutch divided over new mission in Afghanistan

Dutch divided over new mission in AfghanistanAmsterdam  - The Dutch government coalition is deeply divided over the question of whether it should support a new military mission in Afghanistan after 2010, reports said Thursday.

During a late night emergency debate that continued through Thursday morning, the Labour and Christian Union parties, who are part of the goverment coalition, said they would not support another mission in Afghanistan's Uruzghan province.

The largest coalition party, the Christian Democrats, however, said it would consider the option of continuing the Dutch military presence, either in Uruzghan or elsewhere in Afghanistan.

The Dutch currently have some 1,200 troops stationed in the southern Afghan province as part of NATO's International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF).

The mission is due to end in August 2010. Previously, the government said the mission would not be extended.

Speaking in parliament, Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Verhagen, a Christian Democrat, said that while Task Force Uruzghan may leave the country in 2010, the government would consider "new requests" for a Dutch contribution to ISAF.

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said the government would "inform parliament" if such a request was made.

The opposition central-right liberal VVD, the rightist Freedom Party, the leftist Socialist and Green parties as well as the Animal Party do not support the continuation of the military mission in Afghanistan.

The Christian Union, the smallest coalition party, is prepared to consider the option of remaining elsewhere in the country with some 400 troops, one of the options also supported by the Christian Democrats. (dpa)