Dutch Commandos Kill 18 Afghan Militants

Dutch commandos killed 18 enemy fighters who set up positions in rugged hills overlooking a Dutch camp in southern Afghanistan, the country's military chief said Friday. There were no Dutch casualties during a 10-day mission.

"If we had not done something then our soldiers could have come under fire and the construction of our camp could have been hindered," Gen. Dick Berlijn, commander of the Dutch armed forces, told reporters in The Hague.

Berlijn said the Taliban fighters were massing on terrain on both sides of the Baluchi Valley, about 6 miles north of where Dutch troops are building Camp Holland, which will be their base for a reconstruction mission due to start Aug. 1.

"The Baluchi Valley is a strategic position and in the end we decided that if we did not do something about it, it would be a major threat for us," he said.

CountryWatch: Afghanistan

There are some 455 Dutch soldiers setting up camp near Tarin Kot, capital of Uruzgan Province, where a 1,400-strong Dutch reconstruction team is due to start work next month.

Berlijn said the Dutch mission was carried out independently of a U.S.-led coalition mission in the same region, but added that Dutch and coalition forces coordinated closely. He declined to give any details of the U.S.-led operations.

The Dutch government deliberated for months before finally deciding to send 1,400 soldiers to take part in NATO missions in Afghanistan. While the government insisted the deployment was to rebuild the shattered Uruzgan province, opponents argued that reconstruction is impossible in what is essentially still a war zone.

Speaking at a briefing on Dutch operations in Afghanistan, Berlijn said that his country already has more than 1,500 troops in the country and said that number could rise to around 2,000 before settling back to the 1,400-strong force approved by parliament.

In recent months, Dutch troops have killed dozens of Taliban and other enemy fighters without suffering any fatalities.