The secret military support of the Dutch government to Bushs war in Iraq
Before I start, I would like to say that 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.
A contingent of 1.200 Dutch military, under the mission name SFIR, from July 2003 until
April 2005 was deployed in Iraq. SFIR came two months after the fall of Saddam Hussein to
Iraq. 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 military were killed during this SFIR mission and several
Iraqis 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 Dutch military were already involved in the war against
Saddam; military of the Royal Dutch Army, Air Force and Navy on a small scale and
under the highest secrecy. Argos, broadcasted several stories about this secret military
support of the Dutch government to Bushs war in Iraq. Our investigations created
anxiety 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 politically but not militarily supported the war against Saddam.
In the Argos programme broadcasted on May 14, 2004, the spokesman of the Social Democratic
party in parliament Bert Koenders commented 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: "Its not only parliament, its also a big part of the government it
self which often doesnt 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 be kept strictly 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 informants and were sceptical. We started to check
the information as well as the informants.
The first tip that we got from a person who we did not know before was that Dutch
F16s, which were deployed in Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan for Operation Enduring
Freedom, flew reconnaissance missions above Iraq to provide the US military with
information. First we could not believe this, but our informant was tenacious and gave us
interesting details. For instance about a forced landing. On the Internet we found a
website of a Dutch military who was involved in Operation 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 started asking about the
reasons, the military began to hesitate. When we mentioned the preparations of the war
against Iraq, the conversation abrupt came to an end. We then called the Ministry of
Defence and asked why some details 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. "Its good that I know your name", he
shouted. "The intelligence services are already working on this." Then the line
After the Argos programme, a few MoPs were informed secretly
We broadcasted this story, together with our findings about the involvement 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 in parliament were raised. The answers
of the government were sent to parliament only five days after our programme. In this
public answer to parliament the government denied everything. Months later we found out
that at the same time the Minister of Defence did inform the three individual members of
the parliamentary Commission on the Intelligence Services about some secret around the
Dutch F16s in Kyrgyzstan. The Minister, after our programme, personally called these
three members. At that moment this was the most secret way of informing parliament which
was possible for the Minister. It also indicates that after our programme this matter in
the eyes of the government was very urgent. 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 MoPs who confidentially were informed by the Minister: Maxime
Verhagen, the parliamentary party leader of the Christian Democrats, Jozias van Aartsen,
the parliamentary party leader of the Liberals and Wouter Bos, the leader of the Social
A slip of the tongue
I mentioned already that the F16 missions were not the only military contribution that
the Dutch government did provide 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, Secretary of State Cees van der Knaap in front of a
camera of the RTL TV News openly confirmed that the Walrus mission was part of the
preparations of the war against Saddam. But later on the Ministry of Defence called this
a slip of the tongue and denied what the Secretary had been explaining. The
Secretary spoke to RTL News on November 21, 2002. The day before Prime Minister
Balkenende, after a meeting with President Bush on the eve of the NATO top in Prague,
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 similar public statements.
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
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 started openly resisting. 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. On January 22, 2003, the general
elections for parliament were planned. 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 together 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 after the
elections in the tough negotiations with the Social Democrats offered was that the
Netherlands would support the war of Bush and Blair politically but not
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 succeeded to
form a new government together with the conservative Liberals of the VVD and the
progressive Liberals of D66. This new Dutch government kept the formula political
but no military support until the fall of Baghdad and Tikrit, the last
bulwark of Saddam, in April 2003. The new Dutch government, that 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.
Lieutenant Colonel Jan Blom on stage with General Tommy Franks
Three months before, on March 22, 2003, the attack on Iraq did start two days earlier,
a Dutch officer, was at the stage during the first press conference that CENTCOM Commander
General Tommy Franks, the commander of Operation Iraqi Freedom, gave in Qatar about the
operation. In front of television cameras from all over the world, lieutenant colonel Jan
Blom was introduced by General Franks - besides Air Marshall 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 a Dutch officer was 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 off the record
explained to me. The Dutch government denied any military participation and claimed that
the presence of the Dutch lieutenant colonel just 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: A intelligence
mission of a Dutch submarine in the Gulf; reconnaissance 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 from several sources information about these Special Forces missions. In
January a former 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. In the report attached parts NL forces were mentioned. According to our
source this could indicate that Dutch Special Forces, under Danish command, were involved
in long distance reconnaissance operation of Danish Special Forces in Iraq. From several
sources, among others 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. Simpson reported in our
programme that he heard from American Special Forces that there were British Special
Forces around and Special Forces from other countries as well. Afterwards he heard that
this included Dutch Special Forces.
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. To the Dutch government, for instance, we asked: Did you receive an official
request from the American government to support Operation Iraqi Freedom with Special
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 had, just
like the Danish, indeed did receive such a request from Washington in November 2002. The
Dutch Minister refused to give any comment.
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 have to be studied carefully. Let me, to give you a clear example,
please 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 did receive an informal American request. Two
weeks later, Vos received a letter from the Minister were he admitted that the Dutch
government also received an official request from Washington. 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 Americans. Thats the way it works."
The Minister stated in his letter: The American request "did not lead to proposal
to the Cabinet Council." Marijke Vos thought that this meant that the Dutch
government said No to the Americans. But when we reminded her at a special
procedure with regards to Special Forces operations, accepted by parliament in August
2000, she understood that the letter of Minister very well could mean that the Dutch
government said Yes to the Americans. Special Forces operations in the
Netherlands can be decided 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 and also not within the Cabinet Council.
Back to Iraq. On April 2, 2003, the Dutch Minister of Defence reacted with a letter to
parliament on our first programme on the Dutch support to the war in Iraq. 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 denial 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.
Dont ask the Minister about these supposed secret actions!
In January 2004, this was more then half a year after the Saddam regime was fallen and
nearly half a year since the Dutch SFIR mission was established in southern Iraq, Argos
had an interview with Minister of Defence Henk Kamp. Before we got to the Minister a high
ranking official of the Ministry said to us: "I just wanted 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 reassure the official. 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 and 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 Globalsecurity.org explained to us why the Pentagon tries
to keep the numbers of the Special Forces losses classified. 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 called Lunaville
with figures of all American military killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,
exclusively based on releases of the Pentagon or the American armed forces. Besides the
name of some of the casualties the special forces background was mentioned. But a lot of
Special Forces casualties were not mentioned as Special Forces. So we had to look further.
With the name of every victim we started to search. We came to hundreds of websites: local
newspapers, local organizations, private sites, veteran organizations, military sites and
A former Special Forces officer was willing to help us after we guaranteed that we
would keep his identity secret. Together with him 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 Special Forces must be dramatic
became clear when we looked to the wounded. Here, we had neither figures nor lists of
names. But from the US military hospital in Landstuhl (Germany) we got the total figures
of all American military that were evacuated to this hospital from Afghanistan and Iraq.
The total figure until April 20, 2004, the day that we were there, was: 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 Special Forces in Afghanistan and Iraq
between the autumn of 2001 and spring of 2004 must be more then 2.200. Precisely our
calculation came to 114 killed American Special Forces and 2.112 evacuated to the
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 the US is putting so much pressure on its allies, including The Netherlands,
to send Special Forces to Afghanistan or Iraq."
Huub Jaspers is an investigative journalist working for AGROS, a Dutch
weekly radioprogramme, broadcosted by VPRO on Radio 1 in the Netherlands.