The Dutch went into Uruzgan expecting the same kind of bloody welcome that Canadians have found in Kandahar. But the bloodbath never happened.

This past week, the first four-month rotation of Dutch troops started to leave Uruzgan after having completed 400 patrols, established two forward bases and started the slow work of building roads, bridges, schools, and clinics — all without a single soldier killed in action, and just two injuries from hostile forces.
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At the age of 23, Nisar Ahmad has seen a lot of fighting. His gang of Barakzai tribesmen was the first militia to reach Kandahar and spent the past five years hunting around these craggy peaks and rolling valleys alongside U.S. special forces. Four months ago, the Dutch military took command of Uruzgan, and immediately told Mr. Ahmad's men to stop their raids and ambushes. His militia was given a new assignment: guard duty.
...... “In the last four months, this province is safer,” he said. “I'll tell you why. When you treat people badly, it comes back at you. When you treat people well this is the result,” gesturing at the quiet provincial capital of Tirin Kot, slumbering in the valley below the Dutch base.
......The Dutch went into Uruzgan expecting the same kind of bloody welcome that Canadians have found in Kandahar. Both provinces are considered volatile strongholds of the Taliban insurgency. Special forces operating in Uruzgan encountered daily attacks this summer. So the 1,400 Dutch troops that began arriving in early August came prepared for battle.
......But the bloodbath never happened. This past week, the first four-month rotation of Dutch troops started to leave Uruzgan after having completed 400 patrols, established two forward bases and started the slow work of building roads, bridges, schools, and clinics — all without a single soldier killed in action, and just two injuries from hostile forces.
......There have been just seven ambushes and 18 roadside bombs in four months; Canadian troops have suffered worse in a single week. The success is fragile, Dutch commanders caution, and might be partly the result of luck, insurgents focusing on battles elsewhere or the cautious pace of their arrival.
......The early results also suggest the success of the “Dutch philosophy” (a strategy focused on supporting the local government rather than killing its supposed enemies, talking with the Taliban instead of fighting them, and treading carefully with an understanding of how little any foreigner knows about this untamed country.

......Since NATO inherited control from the Americans, the Dutch have been trying to rein in the U.S. Special Forces, and they've restrained their own troops from any major offensives. “If there's a good reason to kick ass, fine,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Nico Tak, 43, the Provincial Reconstruction Team commander. “Do you know whose ass you're going to kick? What are you basing that on? A telephone call? Human intelligence?”
......In the first months after their arrival in Kandahar, Canadian commanders sent convoys to assert the Canadians' presence, and sometimes resulted in gun battles.
......By contrast, the Dutch have moved with extreme caution. Only about 15 kilometres north of Kamp Holland lies the entrance to the Balochi Valley, the scene of many battles between insurgents and pro-government forces, and a zone where foreign troops expected to sustain regular attacks. Rather than pushing in, the Dutch sent a delegation to a village near the mouth of the valley and asked whether they're willing to negotiate.
......The elders seemed frightened but willing, so Lieutenant-Colonel Piet Van der Sar, the battle group commander, flew in by helicopter for a meeting. “We spread a rumour up the valley, that we're trying to come in without fighting,” he said.
......The tactic worked, he said. Listening to the radio frequencies often used by insurgents, the Dutch interpreters heard locals discussing the new type of foreigner that was replacing the U.S. troops. “They said, ‘Those Dutch aren't here to fight, they're here to talk,' ” Lt.-Col. Van der Sar said.
......The talks include not only village elders, but also the Taliban themselves. It's a subject the Dutch are reluctant to discuss in detail, as the idea of negotiating with terrorists remains a subject of debate among NATO allies.
......Lieutenant-Colonel Nico Tak, 43, the Provincial Reconstruction Team commander, said “Talking to the Taliban is essential, if you indicate that you're willing to talk with them, it's surprising what you get. But you have to indicate — and this takes months — you have to show in everything that you do and say, that you are genuinely trying to understand their conflict. I'm in the business of killing people and breaking things. But I can use my brain.”

......The Dutch commanders seem well schooled in the complexities of Afghanistan, easily discussing the mujahedeen factions, schools of Islam and sub-tribal clans that dominate the political landscape.
......The Canadians and Americans establish forward operating bases (FOBs) in unstable areas, often building them into fortresses of giant sandbags and razor wire, and using them as a launching point for operations. The Dutch prefer to build mud-walled compounds they call “multi-functional qalas,” using the Pashto name for house, designed with a traditional-style guest room for visitors.
......The soldiers living in these qalas are expected to visit every household in their own area, measuring 12 to 30 square kilometres, and monitor their needs.
......Besides helping the local residents with the basics of survival, the Dutch are trying to serve as honest brokers for villagers whose relatives were captured by coalition forces. If a suspected Taliban fighter is arrested by U.S. soldiers, Dutch commanders will try to find basic information about the detainee, to ease his family's worry.
......Dutch forces also say they're trying to protect villagers from the predations of corrupt or undisciplined Afghan soldiers and police, by watching them closely for bad behaviour and keeping them off the front lines. Even in convoys, they said, Afghan National Army units have been moved from the front of the column into the safer middle.
...... “You have to teach them [Afghan forces] not to be a pain in the ass for the population,” Lt.-Col. Van der Sar said.

Doing Afghanistan the Dutch way

BRACEWELL: For more see: Afghani Blog