Friday, August 20, 2004


As most of you know, Belgium’s northern neighbour, The Netherlands, is part of the "Coalition of the Willing" and has as such done its share by sending a troop detachment of about 1,300 men to keep Iraq’s southern province of al-Muthanna secure. Now while this contingent may seem small in comparison to the area to be controlled (somewhat 1,5 times the surface of The Netherlands itself, which is roughly 40,000 square kilometres), one has to keep in mind there is only one major city in the north of al-Muthanna, and that’s as-Samawah. The rest is mainly desert.

At the handover of power from the CPA to Iraq’s current interim government under President al-Yawer and PM Allawi, Dutch Parliament voted for prolonging the stay of its troops till after the January 2005 elections.

Mariniers and Army Infantry on Joint Patrol

The photo was taken on or around March 9, 2004, and shows a joint patrol by Army Infantry (42nd Battalion Limburgse Jagers) and Koninklijke Mariniers. No Humvees, but Landrovers and Mercedeses.

A brief overview of how the detachment is composed:

a.) Its infantry component is formed by the Tweede Mariniersbataljon (2nd Battalion Marines) under Lt. Col. Richard Oppelaar. It fields around 650 men. Note that unlike the Marines in the United States, who form their own arm, Dutch Marines are subordinated to the Koninklijke Marine (Royal Navy).

b.) A loose collection of Koninklijke Landmacht (Army) engineer, communications and security units

c.) The Koninklijke Luchtmacht (Royal Air Force) participates to the so-called NLDETIRAK II with an air transport unit of three Chinook CH47D helicopters and approximately 90 men, and an air attack unit of six Apache helicopters with roughly 100 men, both units based at al-Tallil airbase.

d.) Two small units of the Koninklijke Marechaussee (Military Police)

Al-Muthanna province is not known for harbouring hard-core religious groups or ex-Baathists, so the Dutch were able to pull of a good job with few men. But those days seem to take an end. In May of this year, the Dutch contingent suffered its first fatality when Sgt. Steensma died in a grenade attack. Then came a lull, until the recent outbreak of unrest caused by al-Sadr’s insurgence stirred things up here too: there was an attack on a patrol vehicle in the neighbourhood of ar-Rumaythah, some 40 kloms north of as-Samawah. A rather fierce gunfight reportedly ensued in which a Dutch emergency unit, the so-called Quick Reaction Force, was called upon, as well as some of the Dutch Apaches. Two insurgents were killed. And just lately, on the 15th of August, a 29-year old Dutch MP was killed.

Personally I think the Dutch contingent is quite capable, especially since the bulk of it is formed by a Marinier Bataljon, which in the Dutch armed forces is considered an elite unit. It is therefore all the more deplorable that the recent spate of attacks immediately results in unrest on the homefront, with relatives of soldiers openly calling for the troops to come back and leftist political parties demanding the government put an end to the Dutch operation. While in my car this evening I heard on Dutch radio that the commander in Iraq called upon the homefront not to panic (!), since "most Iraqis are still glad the Dutch soldiers are around".

I’m not downplaying the Dutch losses, but I find this apparent frenzy among the Dutch civil scene highly disturbing. When you are a military man, you know the risks. You know that you can be called upon to do your duty and have to go where your government sends you to. Apparently large swaths of the Dutch population do not see it this way and think the Army is for sunshine soldiers only. Never mind that the Iraqi local government and the councils of towns in the region have pleaded for Dutch troops staying a while longer. It’s just another manifestation of European lameassitude. For when the time that we Europeans are able to distract ourselves from our cosy lifestyle, face the fact that we live in a world of risk, and take up responsibility? Just imagine, the recent fatality led ALL political parties except the liberal (mind you, over here that’s rightwing) VVD to ask for a Parliamentarian Debate on safety in Iraq (read finding reasons to cut and run). One word says it all people: Sitzpinklers.


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