Brothers in Arms: An account of a Dutch KCT platoon and an SASR patrol operating

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The following accounts of combat have been made public by the Dutch Ministry of Defence as recognition of Commando Captain Marco Kroon’s actions in Uruzgan 2006, with the Australian SASR.

Uruzgan 2006

It was early days in the joint Australian-Dutch ISAF mission. Little was known about the Taleban’s strength or location in Uruzgan province. Lieutenant Marco Kroon of the Dutch Special Forces Korps Kommandotroepen (KCT) - pictured, right - was ordered to conduct reconnaissance operations and report any enemy activity back to Head Quarters. Previously the Commandos had been patrolling south of Uruzgan Province, and had reported little or no Taliban contact.
Kroon led a 29 strong platoon of commandos, which was part of a company codenamed Viper. They conducted most of their patrols alongside one particular Australian SASR patrol.

Of the six joint missions that were released to the public domain, Viper and the Australians faced numerous ferocious attacks. Kroon said that after the quiet of the southern region under Uruzgan, “It was a little bit of a surprise that the Taleban were present in such large numbers and that they outnumbered us.”

During these encounters with the enemy, Kroon survived a direct hit by a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) on his vehicle, a crash that destroyed his Mercedes soft top, and several near misses including the scope of his MAG being shot off while he was firing it. “It is a miracle that neither myself nor any of his men were killed,” admits the Dutch Special Forces officer.

Operation Jung 30 May-3 June 2006.
On the KCT platoon’s first operational mission in the province, Kroon’s specially fitted out Mercedes Benz 11kN soft tops took up position to the east of the village of Chora in the Chora Valley north of Tarin Kowt. The Australian SASR patrol, were on the KCT’s’ east flank.

Just days before, the Dutch-Australian force had observed fifty Afghan police fleeing the village ahead of a large Taleban force.
It was not long before the patrols observed movement in the village and began taking enemy fire in the form of 107 mm rockets, RPGs and small arms.
After the initial contact, it was difficult to locate exactly where the enemy fire was coming from. The SASR patrol on Kroon’s flank decided it was best to break off and withdraw. During this manoeuvre, one of the SASR operators was badly injured by an RPG explosion.

Kroon was also ordering his patrol back when he saw that the Australians were in trouble. Realising how critical the situation was, he immediately advanced with his men and provided a shield to the Australians, drawing off the enemy fire.
Under Kroon’s covering action, the Australians were able to pull back with the wounded trooper to a safe rear area. Later the casualty was successfully evacuated by helicopter. Kroon’s men managed to safely regroup with the Australians. The SASR men admitted they did not think the Viper unit was going to make it out of the kill zone; so intense was the Taliban fire.

This action and others motivated Marco Kroon’s men and colleagues to recommend him for the Netherlands' highest military award for bravery and leadership, the Militaire Willems- Orde.

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Image: Captain Kroon (foreground during operations 2006). In the background the Aussas are speaking with locals in Uruzgan

Dutch Special Forces
The KCT are the elite Special Forces of the Royal Netherlands Army. They number roughly 300 – 400 operators.
The other Special Forces unit in the Netherlands is the Dutch Royal Marines, Unit Interventie Mariniers (UIM). In 2009, this unit combined a Counter Terrorism unit called the Bijzondere Bijstandseenheid (BBE) with the Maritieme Special Operations Forces (MSOF). The UIM often work with the KCT and also handle domestic Counter Terrorism operations and security for the Netherlands’ off shore oil rigs.

In 2004, the BBE’s skills were put to the test at home when three policeman in The Hague, were injured by a hand grenade thrown by home grown terrorists called the Hofstadgroep during a police house raid.

The Marines managed to successfully breach the house and make a successful arrest of the terrorist.

Background of the KCT
Originally the Dutch commandos were formed in 1942 during World War Two. There were two distinctive units. One was called the Korps Insulinde, which located in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). This unit conducted guerrilla warfare against the Japanese on the island of Sumatra. The other unit was No.2 Dutch Troop, located in Scotland (at the time the Netherlands was occupied by the Germans).
After the war, in 1945, the two units merged to form The Regiment Special Troepen. In 1950, the Commandos moved to Roosendaal to form the early beginnings of the KCT we know today.

Modern Times
In 1989, after the fall of the Berlin Wall the core role of the KCT altered from that of reconnaissance to that of Special Operations. In 1996, when the Netherlands ended conscription, the KCT became a fully voluntary Special Forces unit.

Over the last ten or more years, The KCT have developed their own independent methods of operating, learned from deployments in Bosnia, Kosovo, Cambodia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

They spread this knowledge to other units of the Dutch armed forces through the Commando Corps Centre of Expertise in Roosendaal.

The true nature of many of KCT operations are rarely revealed. One persistent rumour however, has hinted that the KCT were responsible for a number of War Criminals being arrested in Bosnia during Balkans conflict.

It is only through the publicly known actions of Marco Kroon and his men, that for the first time, the Dutch government is openly revealing an in-depth account of this secretive unit’s combat operations.

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Selection and Training
Not only military personnel are accepted to apply, but civilians as well. To become a Dutch Commando candidates must pass three different tests phases.

An initial three-day test evaluates military candidates and civilians of their physical endurance, team spirit and levels of perseverance.

Following this test, each candidate receives personal advice about how they performed. If candidates get through, an eight-week evaluation course follows. At this time, civilians are introduced to military life and military candidates receive a refresher course. By the end of the eight weeks, those who pass, are ready physically and mentally for the eight week long Elementary Commando Training (ECO).

Those who pass then become trainee commandos and learn skills such as cross-country navigation and field craft. They are tested about what they have learned in a two-week exercise where they will be expected to use their new skills and infiltrate enemy positions. The exercise ends with more field exercises, where trainees are timed while they cover 200 kilometres on foot. If successful, they are presented with the Green Beret.

Twelve-month Intensive Training
Following the Beret ceremony, new commandos are taught to operate in a variety of environments including mountains and urban terrain. They are also being taught skills needed for Direct Action (DA) operations. After the twelve months if they have not been dropped from the training, the commando is sent to a specific team. Each KCT team has one or more specialist member with communications, sniper, demolitions or medic skills.

The Commando Teams
In each commando company there are one-or-more teams that specialise in specific operational tasks. These include:

Airborne
High Altitude High Opening HAHO and High Altitude Low Opening HALO parachuting and freefalling.

Water
Operating in water environments, using a range of watercraft including canoes, submarine training (for underwater covert insertions), swimming and diving.

STT (Special Tactics and Techniques)
Hostage rescue
Capturing war criminals

Current Afghanistan Operations (Task Force 55)
At the moment 70 Dutch Special Forces personnel comprising of elements from the Korps Mariniers and the Korps Kommandotroepen have joined with Australian Special Forces.

In August 2009 the taskforce discovered more than five tonnes of ammonium nitrate, used for the explosives in IEDs. Also uncovered were 10,000 rounds of small arms ammunition and 39 RPG rounds.

In September, 26 year-old KCT operator corporal Kevin van de Rijdt was shot dead in a firefight during taskforce 55 operations near Deh Rawod. He was working alongside Australian Special Forces at the time.

Later that month the taskforce raided Taleban arms caches and seized 2000 kilos of ammoniumnitraat, 10 kilos of home made explosives, 1 complete IED, 1500 batteries en different weapons.

Working with the SASR and their Equipment
Kroon does not call his comrades in the SASR, ‘brothers in arms’ for nothing. His respect for the Australians and their respect for Kroon and his men were forged over months of facing hardship and death together on a daily basis.
One of the most notable aspects of the relationship, said Kroon, was the Aussie sense of humour.

“They had the same humour as us. If you can’t laugh, then it is hard to get over the problems that come up. It’s like we knew each other for years. Often we had the exact same thoughts when coming up with solutions to different problems.”

Working so closely together for months on end also gave the Viper operators a chance to compare their equipment with their colleagues. “A few items of ours were different to the Aussies, like our small arms for example,” said Kroon. “Also the SASR communications sets were better than ours at that time. We had to send ours back to the Netherlands then had to get by with hand sets until the replacements arrived.”

The Commandoes also were able to have a look at how the Australian Bushmasters handled the tough conditions for the first time.
“We didn’t use the Bushmasters much,” said Kroon. “Apart from our soft tops, we used the Patria, or as the Aussies called it, the ‘Mother ship’. But the Patria has a flat bottom, and that’s not good protection against IEDs. Later on, we wrote reports recommending the Australian Bushmasters were necessary for the next Dutch task force.”

Fighting the Taleban
Operation Qualee
Before the Operation Jung contact in mid 2006, the SASR and Viper patrols took part in Operation Qualee. Their mission was to assess any threat to the main ISAF force still constructing Camp Holland, fifteen kilometres to the south near Tarin Kowt.

Near the village of Surkh Murgab, Kroon deployed snipers on high ground to observe movements around the village. The snipers soon warned Kroon that the Taliban were trying to outflank the commandos and encircle them.

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Image: Air support near the village Surkh Murghab. During Operation Qualee April 2006

Although the Dutch Ministry of Defence will not confirm which rifles the snipers used, it is believed they were either Accuracy International 338 calibre Lapua magnum and/or the .50 calibre Barrett.

The snipers shot several of the Taleban but then came under intense fire themselves and were unable to move. In order to relieve the snipers, Kroon repositioned his vehicles to cut off the flanking manoeuvre then provided cover for his snipers. The firefight only ended when air support was called in and two 500-pound bombs were dropped by an F16.

Operation Jung extended 16-23 June
“I saw the RPG coming straight at us, there was a ‘Boef’ and a long ringing in my ears.”

The Viper-SASR patrols were ordered to cut off a Taliban supply route outside the small hamlet of Kuchkin. The target destination was an intersection that bisected the enemies supply route. To get there, the commandos had no choice but to go through the hamlet.

This is something the patrols always tried to avoid because of the higher risk of ambushes and IEDs. Earlier, SASR forward scouts on quad bikes had already discovered it was impossible to drive around the hamlet, which left few choices. Adding to the commandos’ woes was the abundance of ample cover in the form of natural vegetation.

Kroon cautiously proceeded into Kuchkin but the patrol soon discovered the intended passage was not wide enough for his vehicles. Using his binoculars Kroon then located an alternative route and set off on foot to reconnoitre it. As he neared the alternative path, the Taleban opened fire from 70 metres away.

Somehow Kroon avoided being hit and under heavy covering fire from his men, was able to return to his vehicle safely.
Kroon quickly opened fire with his vehicle mounted MAG to suppress the enemy fire, then tried to lead his patrol out of the kill zone.

It was discovered that the Taleban were firing at them from behind a close by wall. During the withdrawal, the Taleban shot the scope off Kroon’s MAG but he kept firing.

The patrol eventually fought their way to higher ground with Kroon keeping in constant contact with the Australians who had originally been behind the Commandos. There was a high risk that any miscommunication could cause a blue on blue incident.
As Kroon was coordinating his men on the higher ground, he saw a trail of smoke screaming towards his vehicle and realised that an RPG was coming straight at him.

Below, Kroon gives his own account of what happened:
“I yelled to my driver, Michel, to ‘go back’, but just at that moment I heard a ‘Boef’ and then nothing except a really long ringing in my ears. I saw my driver Michel was still next to me and luckily he looked okay. Everything was going in slow motion. I looked to see if my gunner, Emile was okay, but he was gone. The RPG had luckily bounced off our bumper bar and exploded in the dirt next to us. If it had flown just a little straighter, we would have all been killed. I then found Emile on the ground and called a medic. After we monitored his heart rate, we judged that he was okay, bleeding yes, but not severely injured. I asked him if he was okay and if he could stand up, he said yes, so I then told him to get back behind the Browning and join in the fight again.”

The explosion had destroyed the vehicles radio, so Kroon moved under fire to another vehicle to direct his men and coordinate with the nearby SASR patrol. During the eight hours that the battle lasted, the temperature rose above 50 degrees and two of Kroon’s men fainted from heatstroke.

Before long the commandos were running out of ammunition and a US Chinook re-supply helicopter was called in to land in a hot LZ. The Commandos Patria ‘Mother ship’ then moved from one Dutch position to another like an armoured ‘meals on wheels’, providing ammunition while the battle raged on.
Luckily for the men on the ground, the Chinook also had an Apache attack helicopter escort, which joined in with the battle and eventually turned the tide against the Taleban. When the smoke cleared, thirteen Taleban were dead.

Together with the same Australian SASR patrol, Kroon conducted operations until the end of July 2006. They had many contacts with the enemy, including one during Operation Chitag (13 July 2006). In this operation, the patrols were patrolling 40 kilometres south of Tarin Kowt. They were also doing something different, by working at night on foot, in close proximity to the enemy. Because of the high risk of IEDs the Dutch and Australians decided not to use vehicles.

After an initial contact with a large number of Taleban who had been laying IEDs, Kroon’s platoon and the SASR were in danger of being overrun. It was pitch black and although the Taleban were close by, they were invisible to Kroon and his Australian colleagues. Drastic action was needed, so Kroon and his Forward Air Controller (FAC) called in a ‘danger close’ air strike from an AC-130 gunship. The gunship was equipped with a 105 mm howitzer and 40 mm Bofors cannon.

When the first 105mm and 40mm shells landed among the Taleban, Kroon and his men were just metres away. Kroon described what he and his FAC went through:
“When it is dark over there, you cannot see a thing. We were fighting blind. When the first shells landed, the trees around us were blown to kindling by the shrapnel from the shell blasts, this lasted a full ten minutes.”

Kroon said “if we had not had the eye in the sky (AC130) to tell us where the Taleban were, we would not have survived.”

The AC130 had a devastating effect. The surviving Taleban fled the area and The Dutch and Australian patrols were able to move on to clear out Taleban compounds in Kala Kala. These compounds served as coordination centres for the insurgents.
Eventually with the Dutch and Australians’ help, most of the Chora Valley was cleared of Taleban. And for the first time, the Baluchi Pass was opened to free ISAF movement.

During the operation the two patrols participated in four days of solid fighting and sleep was impossible to come by. Overall between 200-300 insurgents were killed and nine coalition personnel were wounded including one coalition soldier killed.

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After the Militaire Willems Orde
Marco Kroon has since been promoted from Lieutenant to Captain in the years since 2006. At a ripe old age of 38, the Commando said he is ready for his staff job.

“I’m nearly forty now and working in an operational unit is very physical and takes its toll on your body. Sometimes I miss being in the field with the guys. When you are there, you think, oh, this is bullshit, but when you are back in the barracks talking about it, you want to get back out there and do it again.”

Kroon served another year in Afghanistan before taking on other tasks. He is now passing on his knowledge to other Commandos as a staff officer in the Commando Corps Centre of Expertise at Roosendaal.

Captain Marco Kroon and foreign recipients of the Militaire Willems-Orde
It was on the day of May 29, 2009 that the actions of Kroon and his patrol, and that of the SASR were finally released to the public, almost four years after the event. Kroon said that the most rewarding aspect of the honour was that his men and colleagues had thought enough of him to put his name forward.

The honour has not been bestowed on any soldier for 54 years.

Attending the ceremony in The Hague, were also members of the SASR fighting patrol who served alongside Kroon’s platoon in 2006.

Kroon said he had not seen his ‘Brothers in Arms’ for a long time, because they had been on so many different deployments. But it was great seeing them again. That night, the Australians joined Kroon in the café owned by the Dutchman’s partner and caught up on old times.

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Image: Captain Marco Kroon being Knighted by Queen Beatrix The Hague May 2009

Also present at the ceremony were past foreign recipients of the Militaire Willems-Orde. These include:

- The US 82nd Airborne Division: For their actions during Operation Market Garden in 1944.
- The Polish 6th Air assault Brigade who represented the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade: Who also fought in operation Market Garden 1944, sustaining huge casualties.

Current Dutch Battle Group 10
- 500 troops
- Two army companies;
- 13 Gemechaniseerde (13th Mechanised Brigade)
- 11 Luchtmobiele Brigade (11th Air Mobile Brigade (paratroops))
- One company from the 2e Mariniersbataljon (2nd Marines battalion)

Written by Andrew Balcombe

Photographs courtesy of the Dutch Ministry of Defence
 
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