Netherlands Mulls Sending Commandos, Helicopters to Mali

The ruling Labor Party is eager to support the French intervention in West Africa.

A Dutch Marine deployed to Koukou, Chad, June 12, 2008
A Dutch Marine deployed to Koukou, Chad, June 12, 2008 (Ministerie van Defensie)

The Dutch government is expected to announce next week that it will send up to four hundred soldiers, including elite commandos, as well as Apache attack helicopters to Mali following an appeal for more United Nations peacekeepers.

The body’s special representative to Mali, former Dutch international development minister Bert Koenders, told the Security Council last week that the international force in the West African country needed helicopters and more troops as it builds up to replace the French army that intervened there early this year to halt an Islamist takeover. Koenders described recent attacks in the north of the country as a “wake-up call.”

Timbuktu and other towns in the north, where Islamists, in alliance with local Tuareg secessionists, carved out an independent state last year, have been rocked by previously unheard of suicide bombings.

The national army has struggled to suppress the violence. The head of the European Union’s training mission of Malian soldiers told France’s Le Monde newspaper in April, “They’re managing misery.” He complained of corruption, nepotism and theft in the armed forces and urged foreign powers to expand their support.

The international force is supposed to reach more than 12,000 soldiers and police but since the withdrawal of Chadian and Nigerian troops, it is composed of less than half that number.

Koenders’s ruling Labor Party has been eager to join the effort. “Civilians in Mali are suffering,” party chairman Hans Spekman told a television program on Sunday. “Ordinary people are the victims there.”

Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberals, however, preferred a NATO operation, haunted by the experience in Bosnia’s Srebrenica in 1995 when Dutch peacekeepers, under a United Nations mandate, were unable to stop Serbian troops from massacring more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys. The Netherlands’ supreme court ruled in September that the country can be held legally accountable for its failure to protect civilians in Srebrenica.

France intervened in Mali when insurgents appeared to advance on the capital city of Bamako. They were forced out of the cities and major towns in the central and northern parts of the country by airstrikes and sought refuge in the deserts and mountains of the far north, near the border with Algeria.

The composition of the remaining rebel alliance has shifted. Mainstream Tuareg secessionists, who seek a state of their own in the north of the former French colony, joined the counterinsurgency against radical Islamists who hijacked their uprising last year. The latter count among their ranks members of Al Qaeda’s North Africa wing, Tuareg radicals and fighters that were displaced by Algerian counterterrorism operations as well as Arab and Western powers’ 2011 intervention in Libya’s civil war — to which the Dutch contributed four F-16 fighter jets, a refueling plane and the minehunter Haarlem.