Canadians, Dutch seek more allies for Afghan mission

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AMSTERDAM, Sep 19 (Reuters) Canada and the Netherlands will urge fellow NATO members to send troops to the troubled southern regions of Afghanistan, Dutch news agency ANP quoted their defence ministers as saying today.

''We are showing a lot of effort and have a great responsibility in the south of Afghanistan. But within NATO the responsibility must be shared better,'' ANP quoted Dutch Defence Minister Eimert van Middelkoop as saying after a meeting with Canadian counterpart Peter MacKay.

''There is great agreement between the Netherlands and Canada,'' Van Middelkoop said.

Canada and the Netherlands plan to press the issue at an informal meeting of NATO ministers in the Dutch town of Noordwijk on October 25.

Last week Germany, one of almost 40 countries in the 40,000-strong International Security Assistance Force, said it had no plans to change its Afghan mandate that confines its soldiers to the more stable north.

MacKay also said that NATO must work harder to find more partners to send troops to Afghanistan.

Both have to decide whether to keep their troops in place as casualties increase domestic public pressure to withdraw them.

MacKay said Canada's decision would partly depend on what the Dutch chose to do.

The Dutch mission in Uruzgan currently lasts until August 2008, while Canada's mission is based in Kandahar until February 2009.

The Dutch will need parliamentary approval to extend their stay.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, a Dutchman, said in comments to Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad that he understood the Netherlands had initially committed to a mission of just two years, but urged his compatriots to stay.

''No one can leave Afghanistan,'' he said in today's edition of the evening newspaper. ''And no one will leave. I really cannot imagine the Netherlands will leave on its own.'' Earlier this month, De Hoop Scheffer expressed disappointment that some of the 26 allies would not send troops to fight Taliban guerrillas in the south.

REUTERS SG KP1931

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