Dutch fighter pilot “sick” over his role in Iraq civilian bombing

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A pilot in a Dutch F-16 looks on during a training mission with U.S. and British forces. April 2015. (photo: Ministry of Defense)A pilot in a Dutch F-16 looks on during a training mission with U.S. and British forces. April 2015. (photo: Ministry of Defense)

The Dutch F-16 pilot who in 2015 dropped a bomb on a Mosul home, that turned out to be a family home instead of ISIS headquarters as military information indicated, felt physically sick when he found out that he had killed four members of a family, instead of members of the terrorist organization, he said to the Telegraaf.

The bombing happened during the early hours of 21 September 2015. "It was an official mission that we knew were going to do days in advance", he told the newspaper. "I was the mission commander, did the entire planning. Everything up to the debriefing was successful."

Only three weeks later the Dutch F-16 pilots stationed in Jordan were informed that the United States was investigating the bombing, because a mistake may have been made. The investigation progressed slowly, the pilot said. 

"After a few months it turned out that it was indeed a wrong target. Somewhere there was an error in the information process. It turned out not to be an ISIS target, but just a house. A mix-up in targets. You think: It can't be. I got nauseous when I heard it. Terrible, yes. I feel co-responsible. I threw that bomb and pushed the button. I ended the lives of people who had nothing to do with it. It's a slap in the face. It goes against everything you are there for. We were there to help the Iraqi people."

Some time later, the pilot found photos of the affected family online. "I saw the photo and thought: that was my target. At such a moment it becomes a kind of self-torture to look further. But I thought: if I look away now, that's cowardly. I wiped out half of a family, to put it harshly. There was one guy who survived. Then I saw a name and a face and a picture of the children, taken the day before it happened. A little later I wiped them out. I didn't sleep for two nights. After that life goes on."

He thought about doing something for the surviving members of the family. "But that will not work. The Defense organization does not want to link a pilot to that deployment. It is not allowed. I don't know if they need it, but I have wanted to write a letter. They may think that I am a kind of cowboy because I killed half a family. Maybe it helps if they know that it also upsets me deeply."

The fighter jet pilot tells his story in the book Missie F-16, written by Telegraaf journalists Olof van Joolen and Silvan Schoonhoven.