Dutch troops leave Afghanistan after four years

The Dutch will be replaced by American, Oz, Slovak and Singaporean soldiers.

Kabul: Dutch troops were to leave Afghanistan after four years on Sunday, handing over control of military operations in central Uruzgan province after a political row at home forced their draw-down.

A Netherlands embassy spokeswoman said a small ceremony would take place to handover to an American-led coalition of soldiers.

"Dutch forces have served with distinction in Uruzgan, and we honour their sacrifice and that of their Afghan counterparts during the Netherlands` tenure in the province," the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement.

Around 1,950 Dutch troops have been deployed in Afghanistan under ISAF, mainly in Uruzgan where opium production is high and the Taliban very active.

NATO had asked the Netherlands to extend the mission, which started in 2006 and has cost the lives of 24 soldiers, by a year to August 2011.

But the request sparked a political row at home that led to the collapse of the coalition government in February and the end of the Dutch deployment.

The Dutch will be replaced by American, Australian, Slovak and Singaporean soldiers.

"We have planned for the transfer to the new multi-national operation to ensure a smooth transition... We will maintain current capabilities," ISAF said.

The Dutch mission, known for its "3D" approach of defence, development and diplomacy, has been described by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen as "the benchmark for others" and by US President Barack Obama as "one of the most outstanding" in Afghanistan.


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