Dutch Friendliness in Iraq Can Mean Vulnerability

Late last Saturday the second Dutch soldier to die in Iraq was killed when the convoy of two vehicles he was riding in was ambushed near Ar-Rumaytah in the South of the country . . .

Stop right there, MAO, you interrupt. The second Dutch soldier to die in Iraq? Look, that’s part of the risks for any military contingent that is there. Are we going to get a bulletin on this weblog every time a Dutch soldier bites the dust, just because you happen to live in their country – this when the total of American dead is pushing 950 and counting? Why don’t you favor us instead with accounts of ten US Marines dying in one day (free registration required), but while on the attack – why don’t you give credit where it’s due for real pain and suffering on a somewhat more significant scale?

You certainly have a point, although articles like the one just linked to (reference thanks to Intel Dump) are in English, so you don’t need my help to know what they say. I really don’t intend to report every Dutch fatality in Iraq; hopefully there won’t be any more, but you have to think that that’s unlikely. More pertinently, though, this latest incident – definitely the most serious violent incident of the entire Dutch occupation presence (so far) – raises interesting questions about the rather different way the Dutch go about their military duties there.

It’s really only De Volkskrant that gets to the nub of this issue in its coverage (Defense Ministry Critical of “Open” Patrols – free registration required). And the issue is precisely that of “open patrols”: the Dutch, you see, ride around mainly in open, unarmored vehicles, with their helmets off. (De Volkskrant calls these vehicles “jeeps,” but also reports that they’re manufactured by Mercedes-Benz, so I personally wouldn’t call them that. Maybe I’m a purist: You can be sure that I personally drove a true US military “jeep” – that’s “M151A2” to the cognoscenti – for a couple of years.) Also, the Dutch tend to travel around relatively lightly armed, with mostly their assault rifles and only the occasional machine gun. They do this deliberately, and it’s certainly not because they’re devil-may-care or suicidal or anything like that. As a spokesman for the Dutch Defense Ministry put it after Saturday’s deadly incident, “There’s a very clear vision behind our behavior. We’re convinced that, in this way, we can be among the local population and not against the local population.”


The Volkskrant article adds that Dutch soldiers also like the fact that they can see around themselves much better when riding in such an open “jeep” rather than in the armored personnel carriers that they do have available. That’s no doubt the case, although it didn’t seem to help very much in avoiding what amounted to an ambush last Saturday night of their two unarmored vehicles. In fact, you can be sure that there would have been many more than that one dead soldier had not rather more Dutch military might been quickly applied, in the form of a “Quick Reaction Force” that hurried to the rescue as soon as the troops in those first two vehicles radioed that they were under attack. Although it seems that this “Quick Reaction Force” also got rather bogged down upon arrival; a further five Dutch soldiers in that force were wounded in the firefight they inserted themselves into (although all of these by now are out of critical condition). Yes, things were ultimately brought to a close by application of the heaviest weapon system the Dutch have available to themselves there, namely a pair of Apache attack helicopters (American-made, of course; Dutch-piloted).

So maybe all of this rather controverts the “stay vulnerable, stay friendly” policy? After all, as Defense Minster Henk Kamp is quoted as warning in coverage in the NRC Handelsblad (free registration required), the situation for Dutch troops in Iraq is becoming “more dangerous than ever,” mainly of course because what is happening in near-by Najaf. But the title of that NRC article is “Politicians Don’t Consider Leaving Iraq” – no, you can pretty much bet the Dutch troops will stay for as long as their government has promised that they’ll stay, which happens to be until next March. (That is, after the January elections and with a time-margin to spare for safety – but don’t count on the Dutch staying after that point. Previous EuroSavant coverage on this issue is here.) The same article also reports Minister Kamp as stating that, for now, there will be no changes in the way Dutch troops operate in Iraq, at least until he gets the report from the commanding officer there, LTC Kees Matthijssen. For that matter, coverage in Trouw – free registration required – reveals that an identical convoy of two “jeeps” was taken under fire a week previously, in more-or-less the same area, only that time there were no casualties. And maybe no progress up the proverbial learning-curve, either?

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Comments are closed.