The Netherlands has admitted that one of its fighter jets was responsible for the attack on a ISIS bomb-making factory in Iraq in 2015 in which 70 people died.
It is the first time the Dutch government has given concrete details about its role in the air strikes against ISIS targets. Last month, the defence ministry had refused to deny or confirm whether the Netherlands was involved in bombardment, following claims in the Dutch media.
The attack, one of the bloodiest in the international effort to combat IS, destroyed a complete neighbourhood in the town of Hawija.
Reuters reported at the time that 70 civilians had been killed and said the bomb attack ‘triggered a series of secondary explosions that reduced the surrounding area in the industrial district to rubble’. And the Pentagon said three weeks after the attack it would formally investigate the incident, confirming that some 70 people had died.
Dutch defence minister Ank Bijleveld has now told MPs in a briefing that Dutch bombs were involved in the attack.
The information which the bomb factory attack was based on, later turned out to have been incomplete and at the time it had been assumed no-one lived in the vicinity, the minister said. In addition, officials had been surprised by the large amounts of explosives in the factory, which led to a second explosion that flatted the area around the plant.
The minister said the Netherlands deeply regretted the deaths of civilians, particularly given that the Dutch approach had been to prevent secondary damage and human deaths. ‘But this was a war situation in which these risks can never be completely ruled out,’ she said.
Former defence minister Jeanine Hennis was wrong when she told parliament shortly after the bomb factory attack that no citizens had been killed by Dutch actions in the region. Hennis, now UN special representative in Iraq, declined to comment, broadcaster NOS said.
Dutch F16s were used in Iraq and Syria between 2014 and 2016 and in 2018 as part of the international coalition against IS. In total they were involved with 2,100 bombing raids.
Dutch military operations are extremely sensitive to the possibility of civilian casualties since the Srebrenica massacre in 1998, and all involvement in military missions has to be cleared by parliament.
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