US Ambassador denies being informed that NL will not send troops to Syria

Dutch soldiers with Minimi-light machine guns
Dutch soldiers with Minimi-light machine gunsPhoto: Defensie

The Netherlands will not send ground troops to Syria, Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld said on Friday. "There is no mandate for it, and Mr. Hoekstra knows that too." The Dutch government did not inform the United States embassy or government about this, US Ambassador to the Netherlands Pete Hoekstra said to Nieuwsuur. "She didn't let me know personally", Hoekstra said to the program.

At the end of last year US president Donald Trump announced that the majority of American soldiers would be withdrawn from Syria, because terrorist organization ISIS has been defeated, he said. This resulted in criticism, including from the Netherlands. Trump and the US government took note of this "feedback" and therefore developed a "security mechanism" to maintain an "appropriate presence in Syria", Hoekstra said to the Volkskrant last week. 

The US asked allies, including the Netherlands, for support on this new mission in northeastern Syria. The US wants the Netherlands to provide "military assets on the ground", Hoekstra said.  "The aim is to ensure that ISIS cannot regroup in Syria and prevent ISIS from reappearing in Iraq."

According to ambassador Hoekstra, this mission does not require a new UN mandate as any ground forces can fall under the same mandate as the one with which Dutch F-16s fought as part as an international coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. 

But Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld disagrees. "We don't have mandate for that and we won't get one", she said on Friday.  André Nollkaemper, professor of international law, agrees with the Minister. "The 2014 mandate is limited to the defense of Iraq against ISIS groups who crossed the border there. ISIS has been almost completely defeated, and so the attacks by ISIS on Iraq have come to an end. The basis for the mandate therefore lapses", he said to Nieuwsuur.

"The Dutch have been involved in the international coalition since 2015", Hoekstra said to Nieuwsuur on Sunday. "The activities never officially ended. A few months ago they were still in favor of continuing the mission. That they now say there is no legal basis for the mission, that's new information for me." A compromise is possible, he said. "I want the Netherlands to formally let the coalition know how they stand."