Dutch F-16 airstrikes supported Tikrit offensive: Defense chief

The Netherlands defense chief said Thursday that Dutch F-16s "have several times supported" a ground offensive against Islamic State (IS) rebel fighters in Tikrit, reports de Telegraaf. Iraqi troops seized the city last week.

According to General Tom Middendorp, Dutch fighters have played "a major role" in the battle, having trained Kurdish fighters and Iraqi commandos.

Six Dutch aircrafts that operate from a base in Jordan are active mainly in northern Iraq, and they have used their weapons 350 times during the past six months, reports de Telegraaf. No evidence so far shows that any civilians were killed by the Dutch F-16 deployment, Middendorp is quoted as saying by the newspaper.

Iraq has been of great strategic importance for IS, as their important feeder lines are located in Tikrit, once the base of the late Saddam Hussein. Middendorp sees Dutch troops' focus shifting to support of Iraqi ground troops. IS has suffered substantial losses in attacks by Coalition troops, thus undermining the jihadi movement's performance.

The aircraft deployment began last October and is due to run for one year. No decisions have been made about a possible extension. However, there are no invitations for the fighter planes to stay longer either, according to Wim Geerts, the director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Iraqi forces are next heading to the city of Mosul. Middendorp says not to rule out the possibility of even greater Dutch supported airstrikes there.