Dutch UN troops killed in Mali due to 'shortcomings'

The Hague - Dutch safety inspectors on Thursday slammed "serious shortcomings" which led to the deaths of two soldiers serving as UN peacekeepers in Mali in an accidental mortar explosion last year.

The two men were killed "outright" in July 2016 and a third soldier, who was filming what was a training exercise, was seriously wounded by flying wreckage in Kidal, northwest Mali, when a shell in the mortar artillery went off unexpectedly.

In its official report into the incident, the Dutch Safety Board found the military had been using stocks of old shells bought in 2006 "with the help of the US Department of Defence amid a pressure of time" to supply the Dutch mission as part of the Nato-led force in Afghanistan.

Stabilisation mission

During the munitions purchase, the Dutch defence ministry "omitted to carry out its own procedures and controls ... as it assumed the US Army was already using the ammunition and had carried out safety tests," the Board said. 

It revealed that the shell "had weak spots in its design which allowed water to penetrate." The moisture combined with heat meant the stock was "unstable and shock-sensitive."

Even though the shell was correctly loaded on the day, it exploded as it descended into the mortar, instead of on firing, the investigators found.

The Netherlands has been part of the UN stabilisation mission in Mali (Minusma) since April 2014, and has deployed some 400 troops, four Apache helicopters and three Chinooks to the west African nation, Dutch media has reported.

The mission in Mali was just prolonged this month by the government into 2018 and outgoing Defence Minister Jeanine Hennis said the report's conclusions "are hard".