Dutch troops will begin leaving southern Afghanistan in August 2010 as the government holds no authority to accept a NATO request to stay on, according to Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende.

The prime minister, speaking a day after his cabinet collapsed over the withdrawal issue, said the Netherlands would end its role in Uruzgan province, where 21 Dutch soldiers have been killed since the mission was first deployed in 2006.

“Our task as the lead nation ends in August this year,” Balkenende said on Dutch television.

As the Dutch Government cannot take actions that lack consensus, Balkenende said he was bound by an earlier decision to release the command position in Uruzgan as of 1 August 2010.

The drawdown of forces will take up to three months, and the last Dutch soldiers will leave Afghanistan by December.

In January, the Dutch Government received a Nato request to consider an extension of its mission to prepare the Afghan Army and the county’s police force to take responsibility for the province.