The Dutch defense minister has become the second cabinet member to resign over the Afghan evacuation debacle.
Ank Bijleveld resigned on Friday after Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag stepped down after parliament formally censured them over a crisis that has left dozens of interpreters stranded in Afghanistan.
Dutch ministers are believed to be the first Western officials to resign in the chaos that followed the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul, although Britain’s Dominic Raab was demoted as foreign secretary earlier this week.
Unlike Kaag, who resigned on Thursday, Bijleveld had originally refused to resign, but eventually gave in to pressure on Friday, saying he did not want to hamper the “important work” of his colleagues.
“My tenure has become a topic of discussion and I do not want that responsibility,” he said in a hastily arranged press release. “I informed my party and the prime minister that I will ask the king to receive my resignation.”
Prime Minister Mark Rutte said it was “extremely regrettable” that Bijleveld resigned, but he respected her decision.
The Netherlands evacuated more than 1,500 people, including eligible Dutch and Afghan nationals, in the chaotic final days before the United States pulled out of Afghanistan on August 31.
But many Afghans stayed behind, including 22 interpreters, according to the government, despite calls from parliamentarians and diplomats in Kabul to evacuate them months ago.
Kaag had defended his handling of the crisis, but admitted that the government had some “blind spots” about the situation that the Netherlands shared with other countries.
Dutch lawmakers from across the political spectrum lined up during a debate on Tuesday to accuse Kaag, Bijleveld and the government of being mired in “slowness and vagueness.”
The two resignations have been described by the Dutch government as a show of responsibility for the Afghan scandal, something notable for its absence in other Western governments.
Raab refused to resign despite vacationing on a Greek island as the UK government scrambled to evacuate British citizens and Afghan personnel in the face of the Taliban’s advances last month.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson moved Raab to the minor role of secretary of justice in a cabinet shakeup on Wednesday, although he retains the title of deputy prime minister.
Johnson will host Rutte later Friday in Downing Street to discuss Afghanistan and defense. Kaag had been scheduled to join them, but will not now, authorities said.
The immediate impact on Dutch politics is expected to be limited, as the current cabinet is operating in an interim capacity while coalition talks after the March elections drag on unsuccessfully.
Both officials are expected to return quickly, especially Kaag, who is in negotiations with Rutte to form a government after his center-left D66 party won the second-highest number of seats in the elections.
But there is a possibility that the matter could complicate coalition talks and even increase pressure on Rutte, who has been dubbed the “prime minister of Teflon” after sidestepping a number of other scandals.
Rutte himself formally resigned in January over a scandal related to child benefits, only then to remain in office as interim prime minister pending elections and then coalition talks.
The debacle has also sparked bitter memories in the Netherlands of another foreign policy failure, when Dutch peacekeepers were unable to prevent the 1995 Srebrenica massacre during the Bosnian war.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism