Second Dutch minister quits after parliament censures cabinet over mishandling of Afghanistan evacuation

The Dutch defense minister has announced her resignation, following the foreign minister’s departure on Thursday. The political exodus follows a parliamentary vote to censure the cabinet over chaotic evacuations from Kabul.

Ank Bijleveld announced her resignation on Friday, stating that the criticism she faces would obstruct the Defense Ministry’s efforts to extract those still stranded in Afghanistan.

“I wanted to continue to complete … the mission to bring the interpreters who are still in Afghanistan, and who are counting on us, to safety,” she said. “However, I note that my stay has become the subject of discussion. As a result, I can no longer bear the responsibility for my people in a good way … I don’t want me to get in the way of their important work.”

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Outgoing Minister Sigrid Kaag of Foreign Affairs looks on as she resigns at the House of Representatives in the Hague, on September 16, 2021.
Dutch foreign minister quits after parliament votes to censure her oversight of chaotic Afghanistan evacuation

The statement sharply contrasted with remarks Bijleveld delivered on Thursday, after the parliament censured her over the Dutch government’s handling of the evacuation. After the motion was passed, the minister said her priority was “still to get interpreters who are still in Afghanistan to safety,” regardless of legislators’ criticisms.

The parliament also passed a separate motion censuring the whole cabinet and naming Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag as the one ultimately responsible for the evacuation failures. Shortly after the vote, Kaag announced her resignation, hinting that Bijleveld should quit as well.

“In my view on democracy and the culture of our administration, a minister should go if the policy is disapproved of. I will therefore submit my resignation as minister of foreign affairs to His Majesty the King,” Kaag said in a statement to parliament.

The Netherlands was among the Western states that scrambled to evacuate both its own nationals and a cohort of locals who worked for them in Afghanistan, following the collapse of the Afghan government and the Taliban takeover. Over two weeks in August, the Netherlands extracted some 2,100 people from Afghanistan, with about 1,700 left in the country. Hundreds of Dutch nationals, many of Afghan origin, as well as an unknown number of former local employees were left behind.

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US Department of Defense service members defend aircraft at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 17, 2021.
No country has ‘clear picture’ what flights its citizens are actually on, Dutch FM says, amid chaotic evacuation from Kabul

The Kabul evacuation proved an extremely chaotic process, marred with violence and riddled with logistics and security issues. Over 200 people were killed during the exodus efforts, with the vast majority dying during a suicide attack on Kabul’s airport staged by a local offshoot of the Islamic State terrorist group.

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