AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Dutch government said on Friday it plans to send a new training mission to Afghanistan, less than a year after the country’s military presence led to the previous government’s fall and the withdrawal of troops.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who formed a Liberal-Christian Democrat coalition government in October, said in November he wanted to send a new mission to train Afghan police.
An opinion poll at the time showed that the majority of Dutch voters are against sending troops to Afghanistan, indicating the minority government could lose support from the public and from its parliamentary ally, the Freedom Party, which opposes the plan.
A total of 545 men and women will be deployed, including 225 police and military trainers, 125 soldiers, 120 air force soldiers and support staff for four F-16 fighter planes, and 70 specialists for military command centers.
“The aim of the mission is to strengthen the civil police and the justice system to improve the functioning of Afghan law,” the cabinet said in a statement.
“The mission is of an educational and training nature and will not therefore be used for offensive military operations,” it said.
Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-Islam Freedom Party (PVV) which provides support in parliament for the minority coalition, said his party would not support the plan.
“Bad decision by the cabinet to send more than 500 men to Afghanistan. The PVV absolutely does not support it,” he told Dutch news agency ANP.
By law, the government does not need parliament’s approval for the mission, but Rutte said last month he would seek support from a majority in parliament.
“I assume that we will get majority support ... It will be a tough debate, no doubt about that,” Rutte said in a televised news conference.
The mission is due to take place from mid-2011 until mid-2014. Costs are estimated to be 468 million euros ($607 million) for the total duration of the mission.
The previous coalition government fell in February 2010 as it could not agree whether to extend its four-year mission to Afghanistan.
The Netherlands has pulled out most of its 2,000 troops since August, a move which some analysts say has reduced its international profile.
Reporting by Sara Webb and Gilbert Kreijger; editing by Myra MacDonald