WASHINGTON – The United States is looking for ways to sustain troop levels in Afghanistan if Dutch soldiers withdraw, including reaching out to non-NATO partners, a top US defense official said Monday.
US Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy also told senators "there are prospects that some form, some contribution from the Dutch, significant contribution, will remain" after a new Netherlands government is formed.
Asked by Republican Senator George LeMieux whether Washington was considering seeking help from non-NATO partners, Flournoy replied: "We are certainly moving in that direction, yes."
She also cited the Australian troop presence, South Korean help with reconstruction and Middle East partners who have offered use of training facilities as examples of non-NATO contributions.
Under questioning by Republican Senator John McCain, Flournoy said a Dutch withdrawal was not a done deal but rather "something that we will have to see once they form a new government."
McCain said Washington must "face up to the fact" of a Netherlands withdrawal from Afghanistan and insisted "we ought to plan for it."
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's coalition government collapsed over the future of the country's presence in Afghanistan, leaving the new government with a decision on whether to extend the mission.
Around 1,950 Dutch troops are deployed in Afghanistan under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
The Dutch mission, which started in 2006, has already been extended once by two years. Twenty-one Dutch soldiers have died in Afghanistan.
Dutch troops will begin withdrawing from Uruzgan in August, to be completed by year's end.
Lieutenant General John Paxton, a top Pentagon policy official, said the United States was approaching countries set to withdraw their combat troops and "see if they would pony up folks for trainers" to shape Afghan forces.
"Some have indicated that they would do that," which could allow US forces to move from training to combat missions, said Paxton, who did not name the countries involved.
© AFP 2013