Dutch involvement in the Syrian civil war

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This article discusses the Dutch involvement in the Syrian Civil War.

Political alignment and international legal justifications[edit]

The Syrian National Council, a coalition of Syrian opposition groups founded in August 2011, is openly supported by the Government of Netherlands. In March 2012, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Rosenthal had a meeting in the Netherlands with representatives of the Syrian National Council. He emphasized that President Assad should step down and that the Syrian opposition should unite.[1]

In 2014, this Syrian National Council refused to participate in the Geneva II Peace Conference on Syria because participating in those talks would go back on their stance of not entering negotiations until president al-Assad left office.[2][3]

Apart from international legal justification for (Dutch) war actions against ISIL in Iraq (see Dutch war against ISIL), the Dutch mentioned that the United States had appealed to the right of collective self-defense to justify their US air attacks on ISIL in Syria to prevent an alleged immediately imminent armed attack from ISIL in Syria on Iraq.[4] The Dutch government apparently tacitly consented to their ally the US thus extending their allied war on ISIL to Syrian territory.

All parties in the Dutch Parliament (150 seats), except two, supported this allied war in Iraq and Syria: the opposition came from the Socialist Party (15 seats) and the Party for the Animals (2 seats).[5]

Motivation, purposes, strategy[edit]

The reasons for the Netherlands to join that American-led war on ISIL in both Iraq and Syria were:[4]

  1. ISIL's advance in Iraq and Syria, while displaying “unprecedented violence” and “perpetrating terrible crimes against population groups”, formed “a direct threat for that region”;
  2. ISIL's advance in Iraq and Syria caused “instability at the borders of Europe” which threatened “our own [Dutch] safety”.

The purposes of that US-initiated war were according to the Dutch government:[4]

  • “stopping the advance of ISIL” in Syria and Iraq, where ISIL purportedly had conquered terrain in recent months, and
  • “breaking the military force of ISIL”.

The strategy on Syrian territory was described by the Dutch government as coalition air attacks on ISIL.[4]

Military involvement[edit]

On 24 September 2014, the Government of the Netherlands decided to take part in “the military campaign” against ISIL (ISIS) which, as the Dutch claimed, had been started by the United States with the U.S. military operations in Iraq against ISIL (since 8 August 2014) and the U.S.-led military operations in Syria against ISIL (since 22 September 2014).[4][6][7]

Support for Free Syrian Army[edit]

The government of the Netherlands designated €70 million to fund Syrian rebel groups fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad. It provided support to at least 22 rebel groups in Syria from 2015 to early 2018.[8]

In an update to the official Dutch purposes and plans, sent to the Dutch Parliament on 15 December 2014,[9] the purposes of their coalition war against ISIL were still as described in September 2014 to include military support to what they call “the moderate Syrian opposition”.[9] The answers of the Dutch government given in February 2015 to Parliament made clear that, for the Dutch, "moderate Syrian opposition" meant only some (not all) groups that are part of the Free Syrian Army (FSA); for fear of “possible negative consequences” and because of “the sensitivity of revealing support to specific groups”, the government would not say which groups within FSA are being supported by the coalition.[10]

While no new statements were made about legal justification for the military support to what they call “moderate Syrian opposition”, "stopping ISIL’s advance" or "breaking ISIL’s military force", that justification was still a presumed right of collective self-defense (see September 2014) to prevent an immediately imminent armed attack from ISIL in Syria on Iraq.[4][9]

In June 2015, the Dutch decided to continue their participation in this allied war against ISIL in Syria and Iraq until October 2016.[11]

On 29 January 2016, the Netherlands decided to “intensify” the Dutch contribution to the fight against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.[12][13]

Militarily, this encompassed:[12][14]

  • air attacks in Syria on strategic ISIL targets on the supply lines of ISIL from eastern Syria into Iraq – but avoiding air attacks that would benefit the Syrian Assad government.

The air attacks would be performed by the same F-16 squadron already acting in Iraq (see Dutch war against ISIL).[13]

This time the opposition in the Dutch Parliament (150 seats) was larger than it was in September 2014. Opposed to this intensification of the fight against ISIL were now the Socialist Party (15 seats), GroenLinks (green-left) (4 seats), Partij voor de Dieren (Party for the Animals) (2 seats), Group Kuzu/Öztürk (2 seats) and representative Norbert Klein.[15]

In September 2018, the public prosecution department of the Netherlands declared a rebel group that it had previously supported, the Levant Front, to be a "criminal organisation of terrorist intent", describing it as a "salafist and jihadistic" group that "strives for the setting up of the caliphate".[8]

Support for Jabhat al-Shamiya

According to a revelation came in a news report on Nieuwsuur, the government of the Netherlands gave “non-lethal assistance” (NLA) to 22 armed rebel groups which Dutch prosecutors had labeled a ‘terrorist’ organization.[16] One of the groups has been identified as Jabhat al-Shamiya, which had been supplied with uniforms, vans and other equipment.[citation needed]


  1. ^ ‘Rosenthal spreekt oppositie Syrië’ Archived 2016-04-05 at the Wayback Machine. Website of the Dutch government, 8 March 2012. Retrieved 23 March 2016.
  2. ^ "Syrian National Council quits opposition coalition". Agence France Presse. 20 January 2014. Archived from the original on 22 January 2014. Retrieved 23 January 2014.
  3. ^ "Main bloc quits Syrian National Coalition over Geneva". The Times of Israel. 21 January 2014. Retrieved 26 March 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Letter of the Dutch government to Parliament, 24 September 2014: “Fight against international terrorism” (Kamerstuk 27925 nr. 506). Retrieved 17 March 2016.
  5. ^ ‘Tweede Kamer stemt in met IS-missie Irak’. Nu.nl, 2 October 2014. Retrieved 24 March 2016.
  6. ^ "Which Countries Are Doing What in the ISIS Coalition?". NBC News. 26 September 2014. Retrieved 26 March 2014.
  7. ^ "Nederland levert F-16's aan de internationale strijd tegen ISIS". Rijksoverheid. 24 September 2014. Archived from the original on 28 January 2015. Retrieved 27 September 2014.
  8. ^ a b "Dutch funded 'jihadist' group in Syria, terror trial may now falter". Dutch News. 11 September 2018. Retrieved 16 September 2018.
  9. ^ a b c Letter of the Dutch government to Parliament, 15 December 2014: “Fight against international terrorism” (Kamerstuk 27925 nr. 526). Retrieved 17 March 2016.
  10. ^ Questions from Parliament, answers from government. 4 February 2015: “Fight against international terrorism” (Kamerstuk 27925 nr. 527). (Question 22.) Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  11. ^ Letter of the Dutch government to Parliament, 19 June 2015: “Fight against international terrorism” (Kamerstuk 27925 nr. 539). Retrieved 24 March 2016.
  12. ^ a b Letter of the Dutch government to Parliament, 29 January 2016: “Fight against international terrorism” (Kamerstuk 27925 nr. 570). Retrieved 24 March 2016.
  13. ^ a b "Nederland gaat IS ook in Syrië bombarderen". nos.nl. 29 January 2016.
  14. ^ "Dutch to Join US-Led Airstrikes Against IS in Syria". ABC News. 29 January 2016. Retrieved 29 January 2016.
  15. ^ ‘Steun voor inzet F-16’s tegen IS in Oost-Syrië’. Website Tweede Kamer (Dutch Parliament), 10 February 2016. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
  16. ^ "Syria: Dutch Gov't Prosecuted Levantine Front Member, then Admitted they Supported It". www.juancole.com. Retrieved 2018-09-19.