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Dutch Soldiers Move Into Afghanistan Under Apache Protection

The Apache choppers (pictured), made in America and also used in Afghanistan by the US and British militaries, are armed with a 30 mm canon, rockets and laser-guided Hellfire missiles.
by Staff Writers
Kandahar, Afghanistan (AFP) May 12, 2006
The Dutch army's Apache attack helicopters will be a reassuring presence for its troops in southern Afghanistan even if they are powerless against the main threat: homemade bombs and car bombs.

The six choppers are parked at an air base in the southern city of Kandahar ahead of their deployment to Tirin Kot, capital of volatile Uruzgan province, where around 1,200 extra Dutch are due in the coming weeks.

Their initial mission will be to cover deployment convoys to Tirin Kot and eventually to Deh Rawood district, says Lieutenant Colonel Coos Duinhof, commander of the helicopter wing, on the tarmac of Kandahar base.

Later they will be supporting patrols across the difficult mountainous terrain in the province, where Taliban insurgents have yet to be fully pursued by coalition forces and the Afghan government is all but absent.

"When they start doing their patrols and whatever type of actions they are going to do, that's when we will be delivering support which can be anything from close combat attacks, reconnaissance missions, close air support or quick reaction alert," Duinhof says.

Once in Tirin Kot, the Apaches -- which are capable of flying day and night in nearly all weather -- could be in the air in Uruzgan in between 10 and 15 minutes, compared to the 30 and 40 it takes now.

The choppers, made in America and also used in Afghanistan by the US and British militaries, are armed with a 30 mm canon, rockets and laser-guided Hellfire missiles.

"If you want to eliminate a vehicle, like in a crowded area when there are lots of people around, then your prime choice is the Hellfire," says officer.

He is not too concerned about the choppers' vulnerability to portable ground-to-air missiles, like the famous Stinger which America gave to the Afghan armies fighting the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation and several of which are believed to now be in the hands of the Taliban.

The number of these missiles in the area is "very low -- it's not really a threat for us", he says.

Rather, the biggest threat is the weather, which can turn quickly, and the tough terrain, Duinhof says.

The altitude and the heat, which significantly reduce the capacity of the choppers, are major handicaps in this region where the mountains reach 2,500 metres (8,250 feet) and the temperature was already 40 degrees Celsius (101 Fahrenheit) at the beginning of May.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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