Defense Minister under fire over soldiers' deaths due to faulty grenade
Next week Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert of Defense will face the Tweede Kamer in a debate about a faulty grenade that cost the lives of two Dutch soldiers, and seriously injured a third, in Mali last year. On Thursday the Dutch Safety Board released its report on the incident, concluding that Defense "seriously falls short" in ensuring the safety of Dutch soldiers deployed to the UN mission in Mali, and that the interest of the mission outweighs the safety of the soldiers.
Soldiers Henry Hoving and Kevin Roggeveld were killed when a 60 mm mortar grenade exploded during training in July last year. The Safety Board concluded that the risks of the mission was "insufficiently explored or explained away", according to Trouw. For years "signals of worried employees were not used" and instead "Defense created a paper reality in which things seemed to be in order".
The Tweede Kamer - the lower house of Dutch parliament - often asked Hennis to provide clarity on whether the missions are safe or not, CDA spokesperson for Defense Raymond Knops said to newspaper Trouw. "With the Corps Commando troops, the cases were also euphemistically proposed. We and the Minister must be able to trust that we get an adequate picture." Knops was referring to another fatal incident in March last year, in which a soldier was shot and killed during a training exercise for the Corps Commandos. In this incident the Safety Board concluded that the training location was unsafe.
SP parliamentarian Sadet Karabulut did not hold any punches in her reaction to the Safety Board's conclusions yesterday. "The life of soldiers is apparently not in safe hands at Defense. The situation is unsustainable. Hennis has a lot to explain", she said to the newspaper.
The question is whether Hennis will survive next week's debate, or if she will have to step down in shame during the last stretch of her term as Defense Minister. Shortly after the Safety Board released its report on Thursday, Hennis responded with a statement saying that the safety of soldiers is "paramount to everyone" and that it is "our duty" to make sure this never happens again. Later she told Dutch media that she feels "responsible" but that she doesn't want to "step down, but act". Prime Minister and fellow VVD member Mark Rutte said that he has confidence in Hennis, according to Trouw.