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Dutch to send more troops to southern Afghanistan

By Staff
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AMSTERDAM, Apr 19 (Reuters) The Netherlands will send about 200 more soldiers than originally planned to Afghanistan in the coming months due to an increased security threat posed by a resurgent Taliban, the government said today.

Britain, Canada and the Netherlands are leading an expansion of NATO forces into the dangerous south of Afghanistan, which the United States hopes will allow it to cut its Afghan force by several thousand to about 16,500.

The Dutch defence ministry said it would bolster its presence in the south to 1,400-1,600 troops. The force will peak when the Dutch run the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's force headquarters in Kandahar from November to May 2007.

The ministry said the decision had come after Dutch military intelligence had reported a significant worsening in the security situation in the province of Uruzgan, where the Dutch troops will be stationed in the coming months.

''The trend that started in 2005 whereby the Taliban is better organised in a tactical sense, makes more effective use of communications and weapons systems and acts in a more coordinated way, seems to be continuing this year,'' it said.

The extra troops include 40 men who will accompany six Dutch Apache combat helicopters and about 150 soldiers to help with logistics, who will be relocated from Kabul to Kandahar.

Violence has surged in Afghanistan in recent weeks since the Taliban announced they had launched a spring offensive in their campaign to rid the country of foreign forces. Dozens of people, including many insurgents, have been killed in a wave of suicide and roadside bombs, ambushes and clashes.

A car bomb today blew up as its driver tried to ram a US military convoy, while two Canadian soldiers were wounded in a separate roadside blast.

Critics in some NATO countries of military involvement in Afghanistan say the troops deployed in the south risk getting bogged down in a deadly insurgency fuelled in part by a huge narcotics trade.

Until now, most NATO troops have been confined to the generally peaceful capital, the north and west.

REUTERS KD RN2332

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