Dutch army underlines need to protect Erbil airport after rocket attack

Around 150 Dutch army troops protect the military base at the Erbil International Airport (Photo: Hoshmend Sadiq/Kurdistan 24)
Around 150 Dutch army troops protect the military base at the Erbil International Airport (Photo: Hoshmend Sadiq/Kurdistan 24)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – More than 100 Dutch troops arrived in January to provide protection to the Erbil International Airport in the Kurdistan Region’s capital. On Monday, the Dutch army allowed reporters to visit the troops on the military base near the airport.

“Force protection is focused on the protection of the airport. Together with the security forces and by doing so, they are providing security for the Coalition as a whole,” Colonel Huub Klein Schaesberg, who leads the roughly 120-150 Dutch troops in Iraq, told Kurdistan 24 at the base.

Schaesberg is one of a number of staff advisers to the Ministry of Peshmerga on plans to reform the force. “We work together with the Peshmerga in order to solve that issue,” he said.

From 2015 until April 2020, Dutch forces trained 100,000 Iraqi security forces, including the Kurdish Peshmerga, as part of the Coalition’s capacity-building mission in Iraq. The Peshmerga were trained on marksmanship, leadership, and protecting large areas.

Dutch soldiers were part of the Kurdistan Training Coordination Center (KTCC), also linked to the Coalition. Troops who conducted extensive training at the KTCC include personnel from the United Kingdom, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Slovenia, and the Netherlands.

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Coalition decided to halt the training mission in both the Kurdistan Region and Iraq. The 20 Dutch trainers who were active in Erbil returned to the Netherlands in April, with only a few staff officers remaining to work on the transition from training to new advisory tasks. The Dutch also are part of the multi-national Peshmerga reform program.

Schaesberg stressed that the Feb. 15 rocket attack in Erbil demonstrated the importance of the Dutch mission. Two people are confirmed dead as a result of the attack after a 31-year-old man died of his injuries on Monday.

The Netherlands Consul General in the Kurdistan Region, Hans Akerboom, told Kurdistan 24 after the attack that neither Dutch military personnel nor consulate staff were wounded.

“It clearly shows basically why we are here, and that the situation is always dangerous. If it was completely safe, then we wouldn't be here. So, it shows clearly, why we are here, and I'm sure that the culprits will be apprehended,” Schaesberg told Kurdistan 24.

“I'm sure that this is more or less an incident, instead of happening very frequently. But of course we will remain vigilant and agile to counter the threat.”

Dutch Ambassador to Iraq Michel Rentenaar was also at the base on Monday to visit troops. 

He said the Netherlands is part of the Coalition that brought countries together to fight ISIS. Rentenaar said he didn’t know yet exactly how long Dutch troops would stay in the Kurdistan Region, “but at least they will stay here for the first year, and obviously it's depending on how long the fight will take.”

“For all of us it's I think it's very important,” he said.

The envoy added that the Dutch army also supports the Peshmerga reform program and the Iraqi security forces in other parts of the country. “So it's a big mixture of different forms of assistance,” he said.

Editing by Joanne Stocker-Kelly