Today Uruzgan province is mostly safe around the main population centers, a far cry from when the Dutch first came here four years ago. The Dutch troops have worked hard to establish good relations with the local population and, when they must, they and their Australian counterparts have fought, died and been maimed and injured along with their Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police comrades.
Over the last few weeks, control of the volatile Chora Valley has been handed over to the Australians.
Despite their efforts, it is estimated that the Taliban still control 30 percent of the province. Robert de Groot, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ chief public servant told Algemeen Dagblad that “we expected to achieve a lot more in our four years.”
“Four years is not long enough to make significant changes,” said Rob de Wijk from The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies said. “Think about how long we were in the Balkans for.”
Sunday saw the end of the Dutch mission and the take-over by the Americans. The withdrawal has been bittersweet for the Dutch men and women in Uruzgan. Many believe their politicians are forcing them to walk away from a job that hasn’t been completed. It was, after all, the politicians who allowed their government coalition to fall over the issue. As of August 31, it looked like after months of wrangling and a new election, a minority Right government might form.
Last week, Dutch war correspondent Peter ter Velde went out on The Netherlands’ last patrol in Uruzgan, accompanying the Dutch C Company, 13 Battalion, 11 Air Assault Brigade. Along for the ride was an agricultural expert from U.S. AID.
The patrol inserted into Ab Bordeh, west of the provincial capital Tarin Kowt. They conducted a show of presence and introduced Stewart, the agricultural expert, to the local farmers. Scattered throughout the area were thriving fields of cannabis. Part of the strategy, it seems, is to try to get the locals to convert from drug crops to food crops.
As night fell, the patrol parked in clear ground and set up camp. Recently, the enemy fired 82-millimeter mortars from this area toward Kamp Holland, the ISAF headquarters in Uruzgan. As the stars came out, the Dutch decided to send up some flares to let the enemy know they were around and to illuminate some dead patches of ground. The night stayed quiet.
The next day, the Dutch met up with a U.S. Stryker unit, call-sign “Bull.” The Americans were dropping in at the police stations in the area. The Americans were filling a gap. All the Dutch combat troops had pulled out, except for the Dutch Special Forces Commandos and Marines with Task Force 55.
The week before saw the PZ-2000 heavy mobile artillery and tanks being prepared for transport back to The Netherlands. In typical orderly Dutch style, weapons were labeled and crates of ordnance stacked. The faces of the troops were not joyful to be leaving this hell hole. They seemed instead resigned that their time had come to an end. Many said that all they wanted was for their good work to continue.