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The War Studies Research Centre report The Battle of Chora – A Military Operational Analysis of the 2007 Defence of the Chora District Centre in Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan





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This research paper  focuses on the military decision making prior to, and the execution of, a military operation known as the Battle of Chora, Afghanistan. The operation (15 – 19 June 2007) was conducted by the Dutch-led Task Force Uruzgan [1] and was intended to push back the Taliban, who threatened to overrun the area at that time. The operation became contentious after potential violations of international humanitarian law were reported, as a consequence of the use of heavy artillery against unobserved targets in populated  areas in the Chora district on the night of 16 – 17 June 2007. The word ‘unobserved’ is used four times in this paper:

• at p. 15: unobserved use of fire support in populated areas;

• at p. 51: use of unobserved indirect fire;

• at p. 52: unobserved use of artillery fire;

• at p. 73: use of pantzerhaubitze on unobserved targets.  

Upon request one of the authors indicated that the word ‘unobserved’ is used generically without reference or relationship to a specific situation of weapon use in time or place. Referral is made to Dutch parliamentary papers 2007-08, 27925, 272 that state that artillery fire was used against targets that were not under direct observation. The meaning of the word ‘unobserved’ is relevant since firing at unobserved targets may, under certain conditions, be in breach of international law.

The paper emphasizes that this battle was not a solitary event but should be seen as the culmination of a process that was in the making for months. Although nearly all Dutch forces had experienced some minor skirmishes before the Battle of Chora, there had been no large-scale operations up until that point. This changed in February 2007 when clashes with the Taliban – characterized as a heterogenous group of fighters with opposing tribal interests, personal grievances and shifting alliances – occurred in the Chora district. In the spring of 2007, a growing number of Taliban fighters was observed and intelligence indicated an upcoming strike at the Chora area.

In the early morning of June 16, the Taliban attacked and eventually conquered police checkpoints in the Chora area and managed to increase pressure on the Dutch positions during the day. Dutch commanders had to decide whether to stand and fight or to retreat. The risk of Dutch troops being outnumbered by the large concentration of Taliban fighters had to be weighed up against the likelihood of Afghan civilian casualties, the risk of compromising the ISAF-mission and losing face, in the event of a retreat. Thus the decision was taken to defend Chora using all means available, including air power, and the use of Panzerhaubitze on unobserved targets.

At the request of the Dutch military, local tribal leaders advised civilians to evacuate the area. Afterwards it turned out not everybody had left, contrary to what the leaders had reported back. Between 50 and 80 civilians were killed on the night of 16 – 17 June, many more were injured. The Dutch military offered ex gratia payments to the local victims. The public prosecutor in the Netherlands concluded that International Humanitarian Law and the Rules of Engagement had been respected during the Dutch use of force.

On behalf of four Afghans, Dutch lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld sued the Dutch state in 2019 for breaching three central rules of international humanitarian law – the obligations to (i) distinguish civilian from military targets,  (ii) to maintain proportionality in weighing up likely civilian harm against intended to military gain, and (iii) to take all necessary precautions to prevent the former. The victims are claiming for compensation. The Dutch District Court of The Hague heard the case March 2021 and is expected to hand down its ruling in the spring of 2022.

The authors are employees of the Dutch ministry of Defence that (financially) supported the report together with the Dutch Faculty of Military Sciences. One of the authors of this paper personally took part in the Battle of Chora.

[1] Task Force Uruzgan was the Dutch contribution to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan, established by the United Nations in 2001. Its main purpose was to train the Afghan forces and assist in rebuilding government institutions.

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