‘They are disappointed in Hawija in the Netherlands, a country of precision weapons and international law’
“It’s difficult and annoying,” Lauren Gould says by phone from Iraq about her visit to the city of Hawija on Sunday. “You feel much worse here than behind your desk in the Netherlands.”
Early this week, the specialist in remote warfare research at Utrecht University, together with peace organization Pax and the Iraqi aid organization Al Ghad, presented the coming of a year-long study into the consequences of the attack by Dutch F-16s in June 2015 on a weapons depot of terrorist organization IS. A large part of the (inhabited) environment was wiped out by the detonation of 18,000 kilos of stored explosives.
“People in Hawija are surprised in the Netherlands,” says Gould. “She had hardly expected anything from a country with precision weapons, a country of international law.”
The damage and the number of dead and injured are significantly greater than reported by the international coalition against IS, according to research published Friday under the name After the strike. Not 70 dead as published by the US, and what this one also assumed in its reporting, but ten at least 85. Not a hundred injured, but rather five hundred. Not seven hundred buildings damaged but an estimated six thousand.
Then minister Ank Bijleveld (Defence, CDA) said in 2020 that it was not possible to estimate the consequences for the civilian population years after the attack. The area was unsafe for a long time. The dead are buried, the city administration is. Partly for this reason, the Netherlands has not yet registered an investigation in Hawija.
Also read this story by lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld on behalf of eleven stories: ‘Unacceptable risk’ taken with attack on Hawija
Research into the impact on the city and its inhabitants is quite possible, the Utrecht researchers and Pax wanted to show. Conversations with documents and key figures including and documents, agency documentation and hamburgers, new satellite images; they provide insight into the aftermath of a major event that kept Defense silent from June 2015 to the end of 2019.
The conversations with were discussed by people froma herself. Could they be critical of the stories of residents and administrators of an area where there was a lot of support for IS?
“You need people who know the fairly closed community of Hawija and who speak the dialect. In preparation for the conversations, we have a metric to make aware of the limitations of their own perspective. We also provided a questionnaire as a manual. Furthermore, the enormous damage in Hawija still speaks for itself; he doesn’t lie. If you then look for additional material, you can go far. We don’t pretend to have mapped all the stories.”
How do you design the huge difference in including the property damage: 6,000 verni and fledgling buildings versus seven hundred in the US at the time?
“This latest estimate is based on satellite images. These have limitations, for example because of the angle of the images taken at a great height. Our figure comes from estimates based on drivers who know the consequences well. They counted the completely destroyed houses, but also the buildings of which only the windows of doors were destroyed.”
You do applications like stop attacking bomb depots near residential areas. Do you not place yourself outside of military reality?
“Not at all. On the contrary, we make concrete proposals for thinking along with defence. How can the armed forces achieve their goals without risky attacks for hamburgers? statements, we propose the creation of an independent unit of military and experts who have made their mark in the investigation of civilian deaths. When planning risky attacks, especially in urban areas, that combination can advise alternative options.”
You also want to improve the information position of the Red Card Holder, the soldier who has to give the green light for an attack by F16s. Is that possible? The Red Cardholder is dependent on information from allies.
„By reporting from NRC we know that the Red Card Holder was not informed of the doubts of American planners about the attack on Hawija. That is why we propose that when participating in international coalitions, the Netherlands makes solid agreements about how our military personnel can be involved earlier and better in the intelligence process.”
Also read: Many sources but those for Hawija research are
A version of this article also in NRC in the morning of April 8, 2022