Afghan government hails Dutch troop extension

Dutch soldiers walk in Baluchi pass in Uruzgan province November 5, 2007. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan welcomed a decision by the Dutch government to keep its troops in the volatile south on Saturday but said equipping the country’s domestic forces was vital for tackling long-term security threats.

Violence has sharply risen in the past two years in Afghanistan despite the presence of some 50,000 foreign troops under the command of NATO and the U.S. military, who are backed by more than 110,000 poorly paid, under-resourced Afghan forces.

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, despite public pressure over increased casualties, announced a two-year extension on Friday to the Dutch force in Uruzgan province, which is in the front line of fighting.

The Dutch have 1,600 soldiers in Afghanistan, a figure which will fall slightly beyond 2008 as other countries send troops.

“Without doubt, in the short term, the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan is of high importance until the Afghan security sectors stand on their own feet and can act independently,” the Afghan defense ministry said in a statement.

“But the international community must notice that maintenance of the long-term security is to focus on Afghanistan’s security forces in order to deal with the internal and external threats.”

Last month NATO’s commander in Afghanistan said the alliance was taking a risk by not sending enough troops to Afghanistan and restrictions on the deployment of some countries’ soldiers hampered operations.

The violence has been the bloodiest since the Taliban’s removal in 2001 and more than 10,000 people, including over 300 foreign troops, have been killed during that period, according to estimates by aid groups.

Reporting by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by Michael Winfrey