24 Dutch troops in Afghanistan have been suspended following a refusal to follow orders in what war critics are claiming is the first “mutiny” of the conflict.

Sources in Tarin Kowt have confirmed blog reports that two weeks ago, Dutch troops refused to undertake a reconnaissance mission in Uruzgan province when ordered to, on the basis that they had not been provided sufficient preparation time. The group was confined to barracks, though not placed under arrest, while a military investigation was carried out. The incident received only received limited media coverage in Europe and no coverage in Australia, despite the close operational relationship between Australian and Dutch forces in Uruzgan.

There are suggestions from the Dutch defence forces union that the lack of Australian Bushmaster vehicles, which offer better protection against roadside IEDs, may have also been a factor in the soldiers’ refusal.

Dutch and Australian troops form the bulk of the international forces in Uruzgan province. The Dutch presence of 1,650 troops is unpopular in the Netherlands, particularly as the reconstruction role originally intended as one of the Dutch forces’ responsibility has been overtaken by the combat operations necessitated by a resurgent Taliban.

The Dutch Government committed in November to maintain a presence until 2010, under pressure from NATO. While hardly a “mutiny” in the traditional sense, the Dutch troops’ refusal will place further pressure on the Dutch Government to end its involvement in the conflict.

The overall strategic situation in Afghanistan was summed up earlier this week when the British commander in neighbouring Helmand province, Brig Mark Carleton-Smith, said that despite “decapitating” the Taliban, there was no prospect of a decisive victory and that an accommodation with Taliban moderates (which is something of an oxymoron) will be necessary for Afghanistan’s long-term security. Carleton-Smith’s assessment and the accidental shooting of governor Rozi Khan by ADF personnel overshadowed recent upbeat assessments of improved security in Uruzgan.

Peter Fray

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