Kurdistan Region’s stability remains important for the Netherlands: Defense Minister

"This doesn’t detract from the importance we attach to the stability in Kurdistan.”
Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren talks to Dutch troops during her visit to Erbil, Nov. 29 (Photo: Wladimir van Wilgenburg/Kurdistan 24)
Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren talks to Dutch troops during her visit to Erbil, Nov. 29 (Photo: Wladimir van Wilgenburg/Kurdistan 24)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) - Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren told Kurdistan 24 in an exclusive interview on Tuesday that the stability of the Kurdistan Region remains important for the Netherlands, although the Dutch military will end its force protection mission in the Erbil airport by May.

Around 120 Dutch troops arrived in January 2021 to provide protection to the Erbil International Airport in the Kurdistan Region’s capital. This mission will continue until May next year, and the Dutch government wants to possibly contribute to the NATO mission in Baghdad with new troops in 2024.

Read More: Dutch army underlines need to protect Erbil airport after rocket attack

“We have been based here for a long time, apart from working with staff officers to support training (of Peshmerga) and the fight (against) ISIS, we have done force protection (in the Erbil airport),” she said.

The Defense Chief met Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Masrour Barzani on Tuesday and reiterated her country’s continued military and security cooperation with Peshmerga forces.

Read More: Defense chief reiterates continued Dutch military cooperation with Peshmerga forces

Moreover, she met with Safeen Dizayee, head of the KRG's Foreign Relations Department, and discussed the safety issues in the region and the importance of our bilateral relationship.”

“Now is the idea that we will end the force protection next year, but then another (coalition partner) will take over. Now there is a proposal for the (Dutch) parliament that we will build up the NATO mission with a bigger unit in Baghdad itself.”

“But I don't see this as a reduction (of support), we want to continue to be involved on the officer level with training to show people we are still involved with the OIR (the US-coalition mission against ISIS), but the large number in the force protection will change (decrease).”

She underlined that the Netherlands will continue to see the stability of the Kurdistan Region as important. “I think it’s important that we remain involved, that’s why I wanted to talk with people, and officials here, with the PM and Minister of Foreign Affairs, to underline that.”

“So even if we leave with the larger unit that now does force protection, this doesn’t detract from the importance we attach to the stability in Kurdistan.”

She also underlined that the Dutch should continue to support the Peshmerga forces in the Kurdistan Region. “We have talked about that today, we also have an advisor that supports the Peshmerga reform, and I think we need to continue to do this.”

Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren also said the Iranian attacks in the Kurdistan Region worsen the instability in Iraq, adding, that it was right that this was "internationally condemned.”

The Dutch Defense Minister also underlined that although ISIS was defeated militarily, it continues to carry out attacks. “And then there is the geopolitical environment, with Iran as a big neighbor, and Turkey, so it is not an easy environment.”

“There are external and internal factors that cause instability; therefore, it is important that the Netherlands and other international partners show commitment here, and we are also in the anti-ISIS mission, which is transitioning to a stability mission. We also think it's important to invest in the NATO mission because that is what is needed when you look forward to the future.”

She also added that Kurdish officials welcome the continued Dutch involvement in the Kurdistan Region. “Of course, they attach great importance to having good ties with the Netherlands.”

“This is also because many Kurds (...) have gone to the Netherlands at times and have come back, regularly you meet someone, who still speaks Dutch, that bond is there and it will not go away, we must continue to maintain it.”

Read More: Dutch Ambassador says he always feels at home in the Kurdistan Region

According to Dutch diplomats, there are around 7,000 Kurds with Dutch passports in the Kurdistan Region.

She also added Dutch soldiers were happy to hear that they are well-received in the Kurdistan Region. “Because I spoke with the force commander, as well as the (Kurdish) authorities here, and they gave many compliments (to the Dutch forces). I like to pass those messages on.”

In a tweet on Wednesday, she also added that she had a warm welcome from the Dutch contingent in Erbil. “I have great respect for their important work under difficult circumstances. They are making sure that what is of great value remains of great value: stability and security in a complex environment,” she concluded.