Recent news reports have exposed Dutch involvement in an airstrike in Iraq in June 2015 that killed at least 70 civilians, with the Minister of Defense finally admitting on November 5, 2019 that the ministry had known about the deaths after years of denial.
Two Dutch news outlets, NRC and NOS, reported on October 18 that a Dutch F-16 pilot staged the attack on the town of Hawija, 20 kilometers southeast of Mosul, which ISIS had captured in June 2014. At the time, the Netherlands were part of a coalition conducting operations against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria.
The target was a factory in which ISIS was reportedly manufacturing improvised explosive devices. The airstrike triggered multiple secondary explosions in the factory, devastating the surrounding area and killing dozens.
New reports also linked the Dutch military to another attack, this one on Mosul in September 2015, that killed four family members of Bassim Razzo. The Razzo case featured in a major New York Times investigation in 2017, which in turn led to a shakeup of how the US Pentagon assessed civilian harm, but at that time the Dutch connection was not known. The Dutch government has admitted to conducting an airstrike on that day in Mosul but has yet to admit that it killed four civilians.
When the coalition against ISIS was created in 2014, it was decided to leave it up to individual coalition members when and how to handle incidents of possible laws of war abuses, and to report on any civilian casualties. Unfortunately, that allowed many coalition members to simply remain silent. In April 2017, the US military decided to go on the record about non-US coalition members having killed at least 80 civilians since August 2014, but did not identify the Netherlands as responsible for the June 2015 attack.
For the past four years, the Dutch have justified their lack of transparency through claims of “operational security.” But the Dutch F-16 mission ended in December 2018 and since then, Razzo and the families of the 70 dead in Hawija have been owed answers on who targeted their families and why. Now that this information is out, the Dutch government needs to provide prompt and equitable condolence payments. They should also provide a full explanation and assessment of whether the attack was lawful under the laws of war, including whether the Netherlands took all feasible precautions to protect civilian life in the attack.