ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The United States has requested that the Dutch government contribute troops to the establishment of a safe zone in northeast Syria, the Dutch newspaper Telegraaf reported on Wednesday.
The Hague is considering the request, according to the report, but is so far reluctant to make a commitment to the proposed mission.
The Pentagon has said it will leave 400 US troops in Syria after the rest have left the country, in the expectation that they will be joined by 800 to 1,500 troops from allied countries to establish a safe zone along the Turkish border. So far, it is unclear how many countries are up for the task.
One military source in the Netherlands told the newspaper, “This is not going to happen, for sure not on a short-term [basis].”
The Dutch government, read the article, wants to see if US-Turkish relations improve before promising its troops.
Moreover, the Dutch army is already facing difficulty carrying out foreign missions due to national budget cuts. Currently, 724 soldiers are deployed abroad in various regions and the army recently ended its participation in the UN mission in Mali because of financial shortfalls.
Lawmakers from the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) have called attention to potential difficulties of contributing to the military effort in Syria.
Moreover, many say there are serious questions about the legal mandate behind a Syrian safe zone. The Dutch government prefers to have a clear UN mandate established before taking part in such operations, but any UN Security Council vote on the safe zone is expected to be blocked by Russia, which backs Damascus.
Joel Voordewind, a Dutch MP for the Christian Union party, who last year argued for sending Dutch troops to Syria with other Western countries to stop a possible Turkish attack, welcomed the prospect.
“It would be good if the Netherlands supports the US request for a buffer zone between Turkey and Syria,” he tweeted.
Turkey has threatened to invade the remainder of Kurdish-controlled territory in Syria east of the Euphrates River where US forces serve alongside the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) after the area’s liberation from Islamic State fighters. So far, the US presence and diplomatic efforts have contributed to preventing a Turkish invasion.
Turkey attacked the Kurdish-majority region of Afrin in January 2018 where no US troops were present.
Martijn van Helvert, a CDA lawmaker, told Telegraaf that the US plan is “interesting” if it would help protect religious minorities in northeast Syria, but he wondered if the Dutch army is ready for such a mission.
Most local religious and ethnic minorities oppose Turkish-backed Islamist groups that have been occupying Afrin since early 2018.
Johannes de Jong, head of the EU think tank Sallux which is linked to the European Christian Political Movement (ECPM), confirmed there still might be a strong reluctance to take part in the mission among most Dutch parties.
“The position of the [Christian Union] has already been clear for a long time and it is that we need to support the peoples of North-East Syria against Turkish aggression,” he said.
He added that it would be in the interest of the Netherlands that the entire northeast region of Syria doesn’t end up a “catastrophe like Afrin.”
“It is to be hoped that all parties involved will understand that the Netherlands should not follow Turkish interests but Dutch interests in Syria.”
Any chaos in northeast Syria due to a Turkish attack, he said, would unleash “a resurrection of ISIS,” and new streams of refugees. “None of that is in Dutch interests,” he added.
“Helping the peoples of North-East Syria is in Dutch interests.”
Amjad Othman, spokesperson and founding member of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), told Kurdistan 24 that his group would welcome such a decision.
“In my opinion, there is a need for protecting the region in the east of the Euphrates. It’s also important that the Turkish threats will stop.”
“If countries such as the Netherlands would join such a safe zone, it would be good, because European countries can make a balance between different allies in the area.”
Editing by John J. Catherine