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Secret Military Support of the Dutch Government of Bush's War in Iraq

by Huub Jaspers <>
November 4, 2005

Forward courtesy of Gea < >
Report of a journalistic investigation, based on anonymous tips, secret meetings, close reading of Government statements and official documents, intensive Internet research and discussions with defence experts and insiders in several countries.

Speech by Huub Jaspers <>
VPRO-Argos Radio at the:
Global Investigative Journalism Conference, Amsterdam September 2005
Sent Oct 4 2005

Sep 9, 2005 . Preface

I am a reporter and editor of the investigative radio programme Argos, broadcasted by VPRO every Friday on the national news station ‘Radio 1’. Argos is a team of eight people and we really work as a team. So, all of my colleagues, in one way or another, had part in the series of programmes that we broadcasted about the support of the Dutch Government to the war in Iraq. But I have to mention two colleagues by name, who were deeply involved in these investigations: our German reporter Franz Josef Hutsch and our editor-in-chief Gerard Legebeke.

The official Stabilization Force
A contingent of 1.200 Dutch military, under the mission name SFIR, was deployed in Iraq from July 2003 until April 2005. SFIR came to Iraq two months after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Not as a part of the American-British occupation authorities, as the Dutch Government emphasized, but as a Stabilization Force - in the relatively peaceful southern province Al Muthanna. Two Dutch soldiers were killed during this SFIR mission and several Iraqi’s were killed by Dutch troops, at checkpoints or during patrols.

‘Even a big part of Government does not know about secret missions’
Months before the SFIR mission the Dutch armed forces were already involved in the war against Sad-dam; the Royal Dutch Army, Air Force and Navy – on a small scale and under the highest secrecy. Argos, broadcasted several stories about this secret Dutch military support of Bush’s war in Iraq. Our investigations created concern in Parliament - not only within the opposition parties but also within the Government coalition. Until the fall of Baghdad the Dutch Government claimed that the Netherlands supported the war against Saddam ‘politically but not militarily’. In the Argos programme broadcasted on May 14, 2004, the spokesman of the Social Democratic party in Parliament Bert Koenders commented on our investigations. He said: “If your findings are correct, the Government will have a big problem.” His colleague Bert Bakker, spokesman of the liberal democratic D66, one of the three Government parties, added: “It’s not only Parliament, it’s also a big part of the Government itself which often does not know anything about these things.”

Clandestine F16 flights above Iraq
Our investigations started in autumn 2002 when we received information from several sources who wanted to remain anonymous. In some cases, we already knew our sources and from the beginning we were convinced that their information was correct. In some cases we did not know the sources and were sceptical. We started to check – the information as well as the informants.

The first tip-off that we got from a person whom we did not know before was that Dutch F16’s, which were deployed in Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan for Operation Enduring Freedom, flew reconnaissance mis-sions above Iraq to provide the US military with intelligence. First we could not believe this, but our infor-mant was tenacious and gave us interesting details. For instance about a forced landing. On the Internet we found a website of a Dutch soldier who was involved in Enduring Freedom. On the site there was a special page about a forced landing. The details we found there were corresponding with the story that our informant told us. A passage on the site said that some details were removed. That, of course, made us curious. We found out the phone number of the owner of the site and called him. He explained to us that the Ministry of Defence had ordered him to remove some details from his site. When we asked about the reasons, the soldier began to hesitate. When we mentioned the preparations of the war against Iraq, the conversation abruptly came to an end. We then called the Ministry of Defence and asked why some de-tails from the website had to be removed. We did not get a satisfying answer. When we asked the Ministry whether Dutch F16´s or pilots had carried out reconnaissance flights above Iraq, the Ministry denied. But the Ministry could not convince us that this was true. So we continued our investigations. We succeeded to find the name and the phone number of one of the involved F16 pilots. When we called him and asked about Iraq, he got furious. “It’s good that I know your name”, he shouted. “The intelligence services are already working on this.” Then the line was disconnected.

After the Argos programme, a few MoP’s were informed secretly
We broadcasted this story, together with our findings about the participation of Dutch Special Forces and a Dutch submarine in the preparations of the war against Iraq, on March 28, 2003. Immediately after our programme questions were raised in Parliament. The answers of the Government were sent to Parliament only five days after our programme. In this public answer to Parliament the Government denied every-thing. Months later we found out that at the same time the Minister of Defence informed the three individ-ual members of the Parliamentary Commission on the Intelligence Services about secret details concern-ing the Dutch F16’s in Kyrgyzstan. After our programme, the Minister himself called these three Parlia-mentarians. At that moment this was the most secret way of informing Parliament which was possible for Government. It also indicates that after our programme this matter was very urgent in the eyes of the Min-ister. I cannot reveal how I know this. I only can tell you that I have more then one serious source for this information. And I can give you the names of the three MoP’s who confidentially were informed by the Minister: Maxime Verhagen, the Parliamentary party leader of the Christian Democrats; Jozias van Aart-sen, the Parliamentary party leader of the Liberals; and Wouter Bos, the leader of the Social Democrats.

‘A slip of the tongue’
I already mentioned that the F16 missions were not the only military contribution of the Dutch Government to the preparations of the war against Saddam. A Dutch Walrus submarine for instance, was involved in an intelligence operation in the Gulf in the autumn of 2002. Argos as well as other journalists received information about this operation. In the first instance, Minister of State Cees van der Knaap openly con-firmed that the Walrus mission was part of the preparations of the war against Saddam in front of a cam-era of RTL TV News. But later on the Ministry of Defence called this ‘a slip of the tongue’ and denied what the Minister had been explaining. The Minister spoke to RTL News on November 21, 2002. One day ear-lier Prime Minister Balkenende, after a meeting with President Bush on the eve of the NATO top in Pra-gue, publicly had indicated that the Dutch Government was considering supporting a military attack against Iraq. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who today is Secretary General of NATO but at that time was the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, gave a similar public statement.

A typical Dutch compromise
In the days and weeks that followed on the Prague meeting, it became clear that this readiness within the Dutch Government to join the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ was creating political difficulties.

First of all, it became more and more clear that two of the three leading EU countries, Germany and France, would not support the war and Gerhard Schröder and Jacques Chirac even openly started resist-ing. Traditionally the Netherlands, which sees it self as ‘the biggest of the small’ NATO countries, is not only one of the most loyal allies of the US, but also one of the pioneers of the European integration. So the looming split in the EU became a major problem in the eyes of the Dutch political elite.

Secondly, it was very doubtful whether the majority of the people in the Netherlands would be happy with Dutch participation in the war. The general elections for Parliament were planned on January 22, 2003,. So this was a problem as well, especially for the Christian Democrats, the party of Balkenende and De Hoop Scheffer.
Thirdly it was suspected that the Social Democrats under Wouter Bos would have a big come back with the elections in January 2003 and that the party of Balkenende and De Hoop Scheffer would be forced to form a new Government with the party of Wouter Bos. The Social Democrats had made it clear that they did not want to support the war of Bush against Saddam. A typical Dutch compromise that the Christian Democrats offered after the elections in the tough negotiations with the Social Democrats was for the Netherlands to support the war of Bush and Blair ‘politically but not militarily’.

A leading British Defence expert, Julian Lindley French, told me that in those days a joke was going around in the international defence community: ‘the Dutch are waiting to form a new Government until the war is over. So they do not have to decide whether they join or not.’ It never became undoubtedly clear whether Wouter Bos and his comrades accepted the compromise formula of the Christian Democrats. But it became clear that the negotiations between the two parties failed and that the Christian Democrats suc-ceeded to form a new Government with the conservative Liberals of the VVD and the progressive Liberals of D66. This new Dutch Government kept the compromise formula ‘political but no military support’ – until May 2003, until Baghdad and Tikrit, the last bulwark of Saddam, had fallen. The new Dutch Government, which started on May 27, 2003, decided to send SFIR, a Stabilization Force of 1.200 Dutch military, to a relatively peaceful southern province in Iraq. The first SFIR military arrived in Iraq in July 2003.

A Dutch Lieutenant Colonel on stage with General Tommy Franks
Three months before, on March 22, 2003, a Dutch officer, was on the stage during the first press confer-ence that CENTCOM Commander General Tommy Franks, the commander of Operation Iraqi Freedom, gave in Qatar about the operation. The war had just begun two days before. In front of television cameras from all over the world, Lieutenant Colonel Jan Blom was introduced by General Franks - besides Air Mar-shall Bryan Burridge from Great Britain, Brigadier Maurie McNarn of Australia and Rear Admiral Per Tidemand from Denmark. The participation of the Dutch officer led to tumult in Dutch public opinion and in Parliament. Why exactly was a Dutch officer asked to be on stage? The British, the Australians and the Danes, who also had an officer on stage, were openly involved in the military operation. And other nations, who did participate with troops as well, were not at stage. ‘This would not have happened if the Dutch were not directly militarily involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom’, a senior intelligence officer explained off the record to me. The Dutch Government denied any military participation and claimed that the presence of the Dutch lieutenant colonel was the result of a misunderstanding.

Secret missions of Dutch Special Forces
The formula ‘political but no military support’ could not undo the military missions that were carried out to support the war of President Bush: An intelligence mission of a Dutch submarine in the Gulf; reconnais-sance flights above Iraq by Dutch F16 jet fighters; and last but not least clandestine missions of Dutch Special Forces of the KCT, the Korps Commandotroepen, based in Roosendaal.

Argos received information from several sources about these Special Forces missions. In January a for-mer Special Forces officer told us that Dutch Special Forces were preparing in Oman. From a Western European intelligence officer, we heard a story about a Danish intelligence report which was leaked to other NATO partners. It was a mission report of March 4, 2003, about a long distance reconnaissance operation of Danish Special Forces in Iraq. The report mentioned ‘attached parts NL forces’.

According to our source this could indicate that Dutch Special Forces, under Danish command, were involved in long distance reconnaissance operations of Danish Special Forces in Iraq. From several sources, among oth-ers a source very close to the British SAS, we received information about Dutch Special Forces being involved in the opening of the second front in the north of Iraq, after the Turkish Government had refused its territory for the deployment of coalition troops. The operation was lead by the 720th Special Tactics Group of the 5th American Special Forces Group, our sources told us.

BBC reporter John Simpson in those days was with American troops in northern Iraq and became world news when his convoy in April 2003 was terribly hit by ‘friendly fire’. Simpson got wounded, his translator was killed. In our programme of May 14, 2004, Simpson reported to have heard from American Special Forces that Special Forces from the Britain and some other allied countries were helping the Americans in northern Iraq. Afterwards Simpson heard that this also included Special Forces from The Netherlands, he reported in our programme.

Since it is in the nature of Special Forces operations that they are carried out under the highest secrecy, it was clear to us that it would be very hard to get any official confirmation. This of course did not restrain us from asking several Governments for a reaction. The Dutch Government, for instance, we asked: Did you receive an official request from the American Government to support Operation Iraqi Freedom with Spe-cial Forces? The Dutch Government refused to answer this question, even to Parliament. But the spokes man of the Danish Minister of Defence told us that the Dutch Government, like the Danish, indeed had received such a request from Washington in November 2002. The Dutch Minister refused to give any comment when he was confronted with the information from Copenhagen.

A core group of Ministers can decide – without informing the rest of the cabinet
With regards to Special Forces operations, every sentence and every word in every official statement has to be studied carefully. Let me, to give you an example, say a few sentences about Afghanistan, the other country where a lot of Special Forces operations are carried out since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
When Member of Parliament Marijke Vos on November 4, 2003, asked the Minister of Defence, whether the US has requested the Netherlands to send Special Forces to Afghanistan, the Minister answered: we only received an informal request from Washington. Two weeks later, Vos received a letter from the Minis-ter were he admitted that the Dutch government also received an official American request. When we hinted the Director of the Clingendael Centre for Strategic Studies, Professor Rob de Wijk, a leading Dutch Defence expert and a former Ministry official, on this letter, he was distinct: “If an informal request is followed by a formal request, this means that the Dutch Government must have said ‘Yes’ to the Ameri-cans. That’s the way it works”, said De Wijk.

The Minister stated in his letter that the American request “did not lead to a proposal to the Cabinet Coun-cil.” MoP Marijke Vos thought that these words meant that the Dutch Government had said ‘No’ to the Americans. But when we reminded her of a special procedure with regards to Special Forces operations, accepted by Parliament in August 2000, she understood that the letter of the Minister could very well mean that the Dutch Government had said ‘Yes’ to the Americans. Special Forces operations in the Neth-erlands can be decided upon by a core group of five Ministers, including the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Defence. They do not have to be discussed within Parliament nor within the Cabinet Council. So the Minister’s answer that the American request “did not lead to a proposal to the Cabinet Council” does not mean that The Hague said ‘No’..

Back to Iraq. On April 2, 2003, the Dutch Minister of Defence reacted on our first programme about the Dutch support to the war in Iraq with a letter to Parliament. The Minister wrote: “No Dutch military units have participated in military operations on the territory of Iraq.” At first sight it seemed that this was a de-nial of the Argos findings. But we did not report that complete Dutch units had participated in Iraq. What we reported five days before was that small groups of Dutch Special Forces took part.
‘Don’t ask the Minister about these supposed secret actions!’

In January 2004, more then half a year after the Saddam regime had fallen and nearly half a year after the Dutch SFIR mission became operational in southern Iraq, Argos had an interview with Minister of Defence Henk Kamp. When we arrived at the Ministry a high ranking official came to us. He had one last condition for the interview: “I want to make sure that you will not ask any question about these supposed secret military actions in Iraq that you reported about.” Since the interview was about the future Dutch defence policy, we could accept this condition. But our curiosity was stimulated very much by this remark. Why was the Ministry so afraid that the Minister would be asked about this subject? Would it be difficult for him to deny?

‘The Special Forces losses in Afghanistan and Iraq are tremendous’
We started researching the background of the American requests to several allies to send Special Forces to Iraq as well as to Afghanistan. Are the American Special Forces confronted with big losses? It was not easy to find concrete information on this question. The Pentagon told us that they could not provide us with figures. The American Special Forces expert Tim Brown of ‘’ did not have figures either. He explained to us why the Pentagon tries to keep the numbers of the Special Forces losses clas-sified. Brown said that combat related deaths sometimes even are covered up, for instance as training accidents. “They just say: ‘They were on a training mission and their helicopter crashed.’”, Brown stated.

We started an intensive research on the Internet. We found a website with figures of all American military killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, exclusively based on official releases of the Pentagon and the American armed forces. Apart from the names of some of the casualties a special forces background was mentioned. But a lot of Special Forces casualties were not mentioned as Special Forces. So we had to look further. We researched the name of every single victim. So we came to hundreds of websites: local newspapers, local organizations, private sites, veteran organizations, military sites and so on.

A former Special Forces officer was willing to help us after we guaranteed that we would keep his identity secret. With his help we found out that more then 50% of the killed American military in Afghanistan were Special Forces and nearly 10% of the American casualties in Iraq. That the losses for the American Spe-cial Forces must be dramatic became clear when we looked at the wounded. Here, we neither had figures nor names. But from the US military hospital in Landstuhl (Germany) we got the total figures of all Ameri-can military that were evacuated for serious medical reasons to this hospital from Afghanistan and Iraq. The total figures until April 20, 2004, the day that we visited the Landstuhl hospital, were: more then 2.300 for Afghanistan and more then 11.400 for Iraq. The former Special Forces officer who helped us with the interpretations said that it was allowed to assume that the Special Forces percentage under the wounded would be similar to the percentage under the dead. So, we could calculate that the total losses of US Spe-cial Forces in Afghanistan and Iraq between the autumn of 2001 and spring of 2004 must be more then 2.200. To be precise: our calculation came to 114 killed American Special Forces and 2.112 evacuated to the Landstuhl hospital.

We did not succeed to get any official comment on this calculation. But defence expert Professor Rob de Wijk from the Clingendael Institute in The Hague was willing to have a close look at our findings. He called the results of our investigation “a revelation” and explained: “The number of Special Forces, the elite troops of every army, are limited. So, these losses in Afghanistan and Iraq are tremendous. This explains why Washington is putting so much pressure on its allies, including The Netherlands, to send Special Forces to Afghanistan or Iraq.”

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