Dutch MPs hesitate over extending UN mission in Mali

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert (Photo: Rijksoverheid.nl/Wikimedia Commons)Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert (Photo: Rijksoverheid.nl/Wikimedia Commons)

A large number of parliamentarians are hesitating over extending the UN mission in Mali. They are concerned over a lack of air support to the Dutch troops there as there will be no access to fighting helicopters between March 1st and May 1st, the Volkskrant reports.

Letters from Ministers Bert Koenders of Foreign Affairs and Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert of Defense to parliament state that the Dutch Apache helicopters will return from Mali on March 1st, according to the newspaper. They also state that the "aim" is to have German Tiger combat helicopters operational in Mali from May 1st. That means in between, there will be no air support for the troops stationed in the African country.

The lack of air support for soldiers is a sore point for the Netherlands, since Dutchbat soldiers were left hopelessly defending the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica without air support in 1995. That fight ended in the massacre of over 8 thousand Muslim men and boys.

"Combat support is a hard condition. If necessary, the Dutch Apaches have to stay longer", GroenLinks MP Rik Grashoff said to the Volkskrant. The PvdA is a "strong supporter" of the mission, but is concerned about what the lack of air support will mean for the Dutch in Mali. "If necessary, the deployment should be adjusted", MP Michiel Servaes said. 

"We ask for guarantees for both combat helicopters and transport helicopters to transport injured people", ChristenUnie MP Joel Voordewind said to the newspaper. "If that capacity is lacking soldiers can only walk a circle around their camp and that is to the detriment of the effectiveness of the mission."

The VVD and CDA are also concerned about the safety of the Dutch troops. But they point out that, according to Defense, the fighting capacity is supported by a mortar unit that is joining the soldiers. This unit can offer combat support with a kind of rocket on the shoulder. The VVD's main point of concern is the medical evacuation capacity. That is supposed to be arranged by helicopters from Germany, but the country still hasn't officially agreed to help, according to the newspaper. Both CDA and VVD will not support extending the mission until the Germans officially agree to their contribution.

The Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament, is discussing the mission with Koenders and Hennis today.