A furious dispute over the war in Afghanistan on Saturday brought down the Dutch government, bitterly divided over whether its forces should stay or go as NATO deepens its engagement against the Taliban.
The fall of the government, two days short of the coalition’s third anniversary, all but guarantees that the 2,000 Dutch troops will be brought home this year and will eventually prompt new parliamentary elections.
The center-right government’s collapse was also a sign of the difficulty President Obama faces in maintaining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization contingent in Afghanistan at full strength.
Canada has said it intends to withdraw its entire 2,800-strong force from Afghanistan by the end of 2011. Most European nations, including France and Germany, have been reluctant to boost their participation, limiting their contributions mainly to instructors for the Afghan army and police, even as the U.S. has sent thousands more troops.
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende wanted to extend the Dutch troop deployment in the NATO-led mission past the August deadline, but Deputy Prime Minister Wouter Bos’ Labor Party opposed any extension and walked out of a marathon Cabinet session Saturday.
Elections are expected in May. Balkenende will remain in office as head of a minority government until a new coalition is formed, which could take months after the election, given the fractious state of Dutch politics.