European Ambivalence Threatens NATO Afghanistan Mission

European Ambivalence Threatens NATO Afghanistan Mission

AMSTERDAM -- Is it possible that NATO, probably the mightiest, certainly the wealthiest, military alliance the world has even seen, could leave Afghanistan defeated by the Taliban, a band of religious fanatics with an ideology harking back to the 7th century? During two days of talks just completed in the Dutch resort of Noordwijk along the North Sea coast, defense ministers from NATO countries discussed the future of the mission in Afghanistan in tones that betrayed a sense of urgency bordering on despair.

In the Netherlands, whose troops are fighting in the most dangerous region of Afghanistan, the mission is gradually losing public support. Every time a Dutch soldier dies in Afghanistan the push here to end this country's participation grows stronger. The war is seen as a distant battle with hazy goals, far removed from the daily lives of Europeans. The sentiment is shared in varying degrees by the people of the 38 countries with troops in ISAF, the International Security and Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who happens to be Dutch, has been pleading with the public to understand the importance of the mission. The consequences of defeat in Afghanistan will reach people on the continent, he recently argued, addressing Europeans. "The security of Afghanistan is directly linked to your and my security."

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