Two Dutch killed in Afghanistan


Two Dutch soldiers were killed in a clash with militants in Afghanistan, the Netherlands' Defence Ministry confirmed today.

A 20-year old private and a 22-year old corporal died during a firefight with "opposing militant forces" on Saturday at around 9 p.m. local time, the ministry said.

Two Afghan soldiers were killed in fighting later the same evening, the ministry said.

Around 1,650 Dutch troops are serving in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan as part of the NATO mission there. Since their mission began last year, 14 Dutch troops have died.

The firefight took place around 3 miles northwest of Camp Hadrian, near the southern town of Deh Rawod, said Gen. Dick Berlijn, commander of Dutch forces in Afghanistan.

The soldiers who were killed were part of an operation in which several hundred Dutch and Afghan soldiers were attempting to gauge prospects for refugees currently sheltering in the Deh Rawod bazaar to return home, Berlijn said.

"In the evening hours, a sizable firefight broke out. The circumstances around this firefight are not completely clear. It is clear that there was a lengthy fight, in which numerous units were involved," Berlijn said.

The region where the fighting took place has been restive for several months with numerous small groups of Taliban fighters known to be hiding there.

Dutch forces had seized weapons from several homes in raids Saturday, Berlijn said.

In November, Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende announced the Dutch would extend their mission in Afghanistan for two years after it was due to expire in August 2008.