Netherlands Stops Training Mission in Iraq After Drone Strike

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) – Dutch military training operations in Iraq have been called off, after the Iraqi parliament voted to expel foreign military personnel in the wake of a U.S. drone strike that killed Iran’s top general.

The Netherlands Ministry of Defense initially reported that its training mission would continue despite the nonbinding resolution, but the Combined Joint Task Force, the U.S.-led international coalition against the Islamic State terrorist group, announced it was ceasing training activities to focus on protecting American facilities in Iraq.

A soldier carries a sand bag during the reinforcement of the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad, Iraq, on Saturday. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Kyle C. Talbot via AP)

“All training operations in Iraq from the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve have been temporarily suspended by the commander of the mission until further notice due to the current safety situation,” the Dutch defense ministry said in a statement.

Iraq has been in turmoil since a drone strike on Friday that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani as he left the Baghdad airport.

Tensions escalated over the weekend as Iran pulled out of the 2015 nuclear agreement, which was aimed at keeping the country from making nuclear weapons. President Donald Trump posted a series of tweets threatening to attack 52 Iranian targets, including “some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture.”

Dutch civilians in the country were told by the foreign ministry to leave Iraq over the weekend, as were Americans.

The Netherlands has had a small military presence in the country since the start of the Iraq War in 2003, generally assisting with operational support and training. The current Dutch contingent in Iraq consists of 50 soldiers stationed in the northern region of Kurdistan and 10 in Baghdad.

Dutch military operations there were also briefly suspended in 2017 following increasing violence in the region but resumed a few days later.

The current mission in Iraq is focused on fighting the Islamic State and providing humanitarian support. According to the Dutch government, its troops are training Iraqi and Kurdish military forces in tactical action, military first aid and defusing roadside bombs. Until 2019, the Netherlands also participated in an air campaign, which bombed targets in both Iraq and Syria.

Dutch involvement in the region has been controversial. Last year, following an investigation by Dutch news outlets NOS and MRC, it was revealed that 70 civilians had been killed in a 2015 bombing by the Dutch military in the northern city of Hawija. The defense ministry never informed parliament about the incident, which has led to calls for Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld to step down.

The Netherlands will continue its involvement in a French-led mission to protect shipping interests in the Strait of Hormuz, the only sea passage from the Persian Gulf to the open ocean.

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