Dutch court rules 2007 Afghan air strike ‘unlawful’

UK Apache firing in Afghanistan
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A deadly Dutch air strike on a civilian compound in Afghanistan in 2007 was unlawful, a court in the Netherlands ruled on Wednesday 23 November, ordering the country to compensate the victims’ families.

Four Afghans, who were not named in the court papers, took the Dutch state to court over the incident, which occurred during fighting between international forces and the Taliban in Uruzgan province in central Afghanistan.
In the early hours of June 17, 2007, Dutch F-16 fighter jets dropped 28 guided bombs in the area. Of these, 18 landed on walled compounds – called “qalas” – near the strategic town of Chora.Several bombs landed on one of the compounds, designated “qala 4131”. They killed at least 18 of the claimants’ relatives, court papers said.


Dutch forces had not properly distinguished between military and civilian targets, the court ruled. It said:

The court concludes that the State has not sufficiently substantiated that at the time… there was sufficient information in which a reasonable commander could designate it as a military target.

The victims included the wife, two daughters, three sons and a daughter-in-law of one of the claimants.

Dutch government lawyers claimed the Taliban used the compound for military purposes and although civilians lived there, the attack was indeed justified. However, judges said there had been no firing around the stricken compound for at least 15 hours before the bombing.

The claimants’ lawyer, Liesbeth Zegveld, told Agence France-Presse (AFP):

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The most recent information was already 15 hours old.

The intelligence is not of a nature in which one could say, ‘Well, yes please, go ahead with seven bombs.

Judges also ruled that the victims should be compensated, but that exact amounts would be determined at a later stage.

Further inquiries

The ruling comes as Human Rights Watch (HRW) continues its campaign for an inquiry into potential human rights violations “by all sides” in Afghanistan. HRW have said:

Human Rights Watch research found numerous violations of international humanitarian law by Afghan government forces, and has documented torture and ill-treatment of detainees by the United States military and CIA since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

While the latest ruling about the unlawful Dutch air strike in Afghanistan will be welcome, HRW warn that the road ahead for accountability will be difficult:

A fraught security environment, in which the Taliban frequently threaten and intimidate people who speak against them, and a difficult political landscape for justice in Afghanistan highlight both the need for an ICC investigation and the problems the court may face in gathering evidence.

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