The Netherlands became the first NATO country to end its combat mission in Afghanistan, drawing the curtain on Sunday on a four-year operation that was deeply unpopular at home and even brought down a Dutch government.
The departure of the small force of 1,950 Dutch troops is not expected to affect conditions on the ground. But it is politically significant because it comes at a time of rising casualties and of growing doubts about the war in NATO capitals, even as allied troops are beginning what could be the decisive campaign of the war.
Canada has announced that it will withdraw its 2,700 troops in 2011, and Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski has promised to pull out his country’s 2,600 troops the year after.
That is likely to put pressure on other European governments to scale back their forces, adding to the burden shouldered by the US, which expects to have 100,000 troops in Afghanistan by the end of next month.