Provide openness about Battle of Chora

5 August 2021

Provide openness about Battle of Chora

Foto: SP

In 2007, the Dutch army was deployed at the battle of the Afghan Chora. 'The image we have of this military action is not sustainable,' say Jasper van Dijk and Jip van Dort.

The deployment of violence in Chora, Afghanistan, in June 2007, has gone down in history as one of the most important and largest Dutch combats in recent decades. So great, in fact, that in the minds of some people it represents a type of revenge for the 1995 Srebrenica drama, when Dutch soldiers in Bosnia proved unable to prevent genocide. This time, in Chora, they were more successful.

In the dominant story about this combat, the Netherlands bravely defended itself against a superior force of Taliban fighters, who were planning to take over Chora and cause bloodshed among the population. To prevent this, it became necessary, to use all available resources – attack helicopters, F-16s, the howitzer army tanks, and a long-range cannon. This was done in a careful and precise manner, while taking into account the laws of armed conflict. The civilian casualties were largely caused by hostile fire or as a result of the Taliban's illegal way of fighting, in which they used people as shields.

A number of examples illustrate why this image is no longer sustainable. First of all, the (civilian) victims. Estimates vary, but usually 60 to 70 victims are taken into account, many of them civilians. In a UN report about the combat, several Afghan sources are mentioned who state that the Netherlands is responsible for (by far) most of the deaths, including civilian victims. Because a lot of extreme violence was used in Chora by the Netherlands, this claim is not unfounded. 

'Collateral Damage'

The casualties were not only the consequence of the precision attacks aimed at the enemy, but civilian deaths were additionally being euphemistically referred to as collateral damage. This is mainly due to the use of the howitzer army tanks, that fired mortars over 30 kilometres, (partialy) without a view on the target. 

Recently it became known what the 'margin of error' of the howitzer army tank was. The bottom line is that the tank's cannon had standard deviations of up to 90 metres. Overall, the dozens of mortars fired with this weapon system, practically missed the standard target. A few months ago after the disclosure of state secret documents, it emerged that NATO repeatedly, but in vain, warned the Netherlands that the use of such force might be wrongful.

Despite this, the howitzer army tank was referred to as a 'precision weapon' by the at that time Minister of Defence, Eimert van Middelkoop. Confronted with this statement by her predecessor, the current Defence Minister, Ank Bijleveld, did not wish to comment at all on this in a recent debate in the House of Representatives. She refuses to acknowledge what can not be avoided: in 2007 an dishonest representation was made.

With the use of this howitzer army tank, together with the attack helicopters and F-16's, an area was bombed where many civilians still resided. Attempts were made to warn them, but that happened at too short a notice before the Netherlands opened fire. While civilians were staying in the area, a vast number of homes were bombed. Taliban fighters were believed to have taken over the ho, but it is possible that civilians were also present.

In addition, Australian troops, who were in the area with the Netherlands, repeatedly reported that they saw no enemy combatants where the Netherlands claimed to be fighting the Taliban. It is painful that Minister Bijleveld, when asked about this and all kinds of other documents, did not want to make any effort to make them available. Relevant information, in this way, is withheld from parliament.

What went down in history as the 'Battle of Chora' seems to remain a mainly one-sided affair, in which a great deal of deadly force was used, especially apparent on the side of the Dutch. With the exception of an accident with an internal mortar in which a Dutch soldier was killed, the other deaths were all registered on the Afghan side. A number of the victim's relatives are currently involved in a lawsuit with the Netherlands because they believe the Dutch acted unlawfully.

The partly new facts mentioned above, which lead to numerous questions, show that the dominant interpretation of the Dutch use of force in Chora in 2007 needs to be revised. While western forces have left Afghanistan in chaos and anarchy and the Taliban is rapidly expanding in power, now is the time for self-reflection. What is the truth about what happened in Chora? It would be good if an independent and fair investigation, with access to all relevant documents, could answer this question.

Jip van Dort is a PhD student at Utrecht University studying war propaganda in the Dutch political debate.
Jasper van Dijk is a Member of Parliament for the SP and spokesperson for foreign affairs.
This opinion also appeared in Het Parool on August 5th, 2021. 

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