Dutch to Shift Troop Deployment from Mali to Afghanistan

Dutch troops are shown at their base in Gao, Mali in November 2017. (AFP photo/Michele Cattani)
Dutch troops are shown at their base in Gao, Mali in November 2017. (AFP photo/Michele Cattani)

The Netherlands is to stop sending troops to the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali and will shift focus to beef up operations in Afghanistan, the defense ministry announced Friday.

"The Netherlands will halt its current (military) contribution to the U.N. mission by 1 May 2019," the ministry said in a statement issued in The Hague, adding it will "extend and intensify" the mission to Afghanistan.

The announcement comes two days after a highly critical report by the Dutch Audit Chamber, which looks at government spending, said the country "barely managed to get units ready to deploy to Mali".

The report lashed the defense minister, saying Dutch blue helmets "lacked material, had insufficient training and defective equipment," on the Mali mission.

Dutch troops have been part of the stabilization mission in the west African nation since April 2014, and at one time numbered as many as 400 backed by four Apache attack helicopters and three Chinook transports.

The Dutch helicopters were withdrawn early last year.

Currently some 250 troops are reportedly stationed alongside French and other forces to fight jihadist insurgents who overran the country's northern territory.

But the Dutch mission has been plagued by a series of mishaps which saw four Dutch military personnel lose their lives.

In 2015 an Apache attack helicopter crashed killing two pilots, while a year later, two soldiers died when a mortar shell unexpectedly went off during a live-fire exercise.

Dutch safety inspectors heavily criticized the deaths of the two men, saying they were using old ammunition stocks bought back in 2006.

Former Dutch defense minister Jeanine Hennis resigned in the wake of the report into the soldiers' deaths, saying although she was not minister at the time of the purchase, she was "politically responsible".

More than 11,000 U.N. police and military are currently serving in Mali, attempting to bring security to lawless swaths of the vast Sahel nation.

Although jihadists were largely ousted by a French-led military operation in January 2013, extremist groups still pose a threat.

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