Two U.S. allies leaving Iraq, more may go

VIENNA, Austria (AP) Dec. 1 — Two of America’s allies in Iraq are withdrawing forces this month and a half-dozen others are debating possible pullouts or reductions, increasing pressure on Washington as calls mount to bring home U.S. troops.

Bulgaria and Ukraine will begin withdrawing their combined 1,250 troops by mid-December. If Australia, Britain, Italy, Japan, Poland and South Korea reduce or recall their personnel, more than half of the non-American forces in Iraq could be gone by next summer.

Japan and South Korea help with reconstruction, but Britain and Australia provide substantial support forces and Italy and Poland train Iraqi troops and police. Their exodus would deal a blow to American efforts to prepare Iraqis to take over the most dangerous peacekeeping tasks and craft an eventual U.S. exit strategy.

“The vibrations of unease from within the United States clearly have an impact on public opinion elsewhere,” said Terence Taylor of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Washington. “Public opinion in many of these countries is heavily divided.”

Although the nearly 160,000-member U.S. force in Iraq dwarfs the second-largest contingent — Britain’s 8,000 in Iraq and 2,000 elsewhere in the Gulf region — its support has shrunk substantially.

In the months after the March 2003 invasion, the multinational force numbered about 300,000 soldiers from 38 countries. That figure is now just under 24,000 mostly non-combat personnel from 27 countries. The coalition has steadily unraveled as the death toll rises and angry publics clamor for troops to leave.

In the spring, the Netherlands had 1,400 troops in Iraq. Today, there are 19, including a lone Dutch soldier in Baghdad.

More to follow »»

Ukraine’s remaining 876 troops in Iraq are due home by Dec. 31, fulfilling a campaign pledge by President Viktor Yushchenko. Bulgaria is pulling out its 380 troops after Dec. 15 parliamentary elections, Defense Minister Veselin Bliznakov said.

In his strategy for Iraq, announced Wednesday, President Bush said expanding international support was one of his goals. He also seemed to address the issue of more allies withdrawing.

“As our posture changes over time, so too will the posture of our coalition partners,” the document says. “We and the Iraqis must work with them to coordinate our efforts, helping Iraq to consolidate and secure its gains on many different fronts.”

Struggling to shore up the coalition, Bush stopped in Mongolia on his recent Asia trip and praised its force of about 120 soldiers in Iraq as “fearless warriors.”

Today, there are 19, including a lone Dutch soldier in Baghdad

Friendly persuasion

On Wednesday, a senior delegation of officials from the Pentagon and the US State Department were in The Hague to – as De Volkskrant puts it – “persuade the Netherlands” about the mission. It seems the government was hoping for some extra assurances from Washington. However, as Trouw and De Volkskrant both report today, the US lobby group doesn’t appear to have given any firm guarantees.

De Volkskrant reports that the US delegation said NATO troops should be able to take care of their own security and: “be able to ‘take out’ relatively small pockets of resistance from al-Qaeda fighters and other enemy elements”.

There’s also another aspect, namely the allegations about the US using secret detention centres in Europe to hold detainees from Afghanistan. Only last week the Dutch foreign minister asked Washington for clarification regarding these allegations, which both the cabinet and parliament see as another reason why the Netherlands may decide not to join the new mission. De Volkskrant reports that FM Berhhard Bot also raised this issue with the delegation on Wednesday, but, as the paper says, “here, too, the Americans were not able to remove the concerns.”

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Netherlands to Lead Task Force 150

In the coming months, the Netherlands is to play a prominent role in protecting the seas around the Arabian Peninsula. On Monday 21 November, two navy ships left the harbour in Den Helder to participate in the maritime element of Operation Enduring Freedom, the US-led coalition against al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorist networks.

Flagship, supply ship, submarine

The two ships currently on their way to the peninsula are the new flagship of the Dutch fleet, the Air Defence and Command (LCF) frigate ‘De Zeven Provinciën’ and the supply vessel ‘Amsterdam’. The Walrus-class submarine `Bruinvis’ had already set off earlier in the direction of the peninsula.

Dutch Navy ship 'The Seven Provinces'  

Onboard ‘The Seven Provinces’ is Commondore Hank Ort. From mid-December onwards, he will be in charge of all ships patrolling the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian Ocean; this naval unit is known as Combined Task Force 150 (CTF 150). The ultimate aim of the operation, says Commandore Ort, is “to arrive at a safe and stable situation where international terrorism has been eliminated.”

“Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason?
For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.”


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