By Lennert Breuker
I recently blogged on the intentions of the Dutch cabinet to send a new mission to Afghanistan. Although I am strongly in favor of a sustained effort to support the reconstruction of the country, I lamented the lack of a genuine, thorough debate when it concerns decisions like these involving matters as war and peace. With for instance a virtually automatic support for the illegal invasion of Iraq as a result.
And also this time there were signals that warranted a critical scrutiny of the American request to send a police trainings mission, as the opinion of political activist Sytse Bosgra suggested. However, his claim that the Dutch would be training Afghan policemen who would subsequently also be deployed in combat situations without adequate armor, weapons and training found no resonance at all in the explanatory document that accompanied the decision of the cabinet. It spoke of the training of ‘civil police’ that stand ‘closest to the Afghan people’, and quite predictably of building a rule of law.
It may have led some – or maybe many – to believe that Bosgra’s account was a bit far-fetched. I even recall the comment of an editor of the same journal that published Bosgra’s opinion, that Bosgra engaged in leftish conspiracy thinking. Which cannot be excluded of course.
But neither can it be corroborated. Particularly after monday’s parliamentary hearings which revealed information that directly supported the core of his contentions. Afghan officials, an NGO representative and classified Dutch military intelligence reports affirmed that Afghan police would be deployed in combat situations if deemed desirable.
This then directly evokes questions addressed in my previous post about the disproportionally high mortality rate of this ‘civil’ Afghan police, about the questionable ethical nature of such a mission once you are aware of the use of your ‘students’, and pragmatically, if NATO isn’t essentially providing the Taliban with resources in view of the similarly disproportionally high desertion/defection rate and the presumed sale of weapons. If enlarging the military capacity should be prioritized, then it would have been preferable to have continued the mission in Uruzgan while building the capacity of the Afghan regular military forces.
Of course it is easy to sit in judgment of a cabinet which has to face an extremely complex situation such as Afghanistan. It has to find a way to reconcile reconstruction with an exit strategy, which may not be possible. But besides the fact that training police to face heavily armed combatants simply because it allows for a quicker transfer of power to the Afghans seems wrong in ethical and strategic regard, there is a problem with the information cabinets provide when it comes to decisions like this.
If Dutch military intelligence knows about the use of the paramilitary police, then so does our cabinet. Which apparently found it opportune not to inform parliament about this fact, and drafted an explanatory document which suggested an entirely civil use of the Afghan police – contrary to the information they possessed. A deplorable way of dealing with parliament and thereby preventing a genuine debate on the contents. It is exactly government use of information like this that propelled the rise of a medium such as Wikileaks, and let it thrive to the extent it currently does.