The ministry didn't want a new fuss

'Netherlands Released Taliban Leader to Avoid Media Fuss'

THE HAGUE, 28/06/07 - The defence ministry has released a Taliban leader shortly after his arrest. The only reason was that the ministry did not want any 'fuss' in the Dutch media and the Lower House, according to Elsevier magazine.

The man was arrested at the beginning of June in the town of Tarin Kowt in the Afghan province of Uruzgan. He had a mobile phone on him with contact data of other Taliban leaders. He himself featured in reports by Western intelligence services.

By order of Secretary-General Ton Annink and General Jouke Eijkelboom at the defence ministry, the prisoner was immediately set free after his arrest. A very experienced soldier, according to Elsevier, commented: "They did not want any fuss in the press and the Lower House. They consider that we must play according to the rules of a children's game. As if we were at the village fair."

A factor that may have contributed to the release, said the weekly, is that around the same time, reports appeared from two commissions that had investigated the truth or otherwise of a report in De Volkskrant newspaper on possible misconduct by Dutch soldiers in Iraq. The newspaper reported shortly before the 22 November 2006 general elections that the Dutch had used torture in 2003.

The reports concluded that the article in De Volkskrant - written with support from an MP in the then opposition Labour (PvdA) party - was not true. Nonetheless, the defence ministry did not want any new 'fuss,' according to sources cited by Elsevier.

Whether Defence Minister Eimert van Middelkoop knew about the release of the Taliban leader is unclear. The decision has led to severe frustration at the MIVD military intelligence service as a potential treasure-trove of information has been lost, according to the magazine.

Retired General Frank van Kappen of the Centre for Strategic Studies in The Hague speaks in Elsevier of a wrong decision. "To keep the minister out of the wind, defence is putting the lives of its own military at stake. And the lives of Afghans."

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