Defense blunders with soldiers' winter gear; MPs furious

Defense made mistakes in acquiring winter clothing for soldiers who will participate in a NATO mission in Norway next month. As a result, the soldiers are forced to buy their own clothing for the mission in a terrain where temperatures can drop to -20 degrees. The Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament, is furious, NU.nl reports. 

The Ministry of Defense was responsible for providing the right winter clothing for the mission, but failed to buy the right material in time, the Telegraaf reported on Tuesday. This is despite the fact that this NATO mission was scheduled for some time, according to the newspaper.

Parliamentarians described these purchasing errors as "weird", "embarrassing" and "ridiculous", according to NU.nl. They also denounced the fact that responsible State Secretary Barbara Visser found out about the problem in the media. The MPs have no good word to say for the fact that soldiers now have to get hold of winter clothing themselves. The fact that Defense is giving them an advance of 1 thousand euros to do so, is not good enough.

According to CDA parliamentarian Hanke Bruins Slot, Defense has been training in Norway for years and knows what dangers the cold can entail. Soldiers with inadequate clothing risk losing fingers and toes to frostbite, she said. VVD parliamentarian Andreas Bosman added: "Safety is primarily the responsibility of the employer. How does the State Secretary know that the soldiers will buy the right clothes?"

SP MP Sadet Karabulut said that this issue is indicative of the modus operandi of Defense, where the basic safety of staff is not a priority. She referred to two Dutch soldiers being killed in Mali by a defective mortar grenade in 2016. The SP called on the government to first focus on its own personnel instead of wanting to participate in dangerous missions. Blaming budget cuts is too easy, Karabulut said. "The shortages are also due to political choices."

Visser called the advance soldiers received to buy clothing an "emergency measure" and an "exception" that can not be repeated. She promised the Kamer that she will consult with the Armed Forces about how they will ensure that the right clothing is purchased. She also promised to find out what went wrong during Defense's acquisition of clothing, which resulted in the winter clothing not being received in time.

The State Secretary pointed out that her Ministry and organization is coming out of "thirty years of budget cuts". More money is now again being invested in Defense, but according to Visser, it will take time before the changes are noticeable. 

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