A US Army general has provoked anger from the Dutch for claiming that allowing out gay soldiers to serve in the Dutch military helped lead to a failure to prevent the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

Former NATO commander and senior Marine Gen John Sheehan, now retired, told a Senate hearing that Dutch military leaders told him poor morale from allowing openly gay soldiers had contributed to the massacre.

Dutch officials quickly rebutted the claims, calling them “complete nonsense”.

Srebrenica, in Bosnia, was a safe haven for Muslims and was under protection from Dutch forces. However, Bosnian Serbs attacked it in 1995, killing 8,000 people.

Gen Sheehan said that since the end of the Cold War, militaries had changed and “socialisation” processes led to including “open homosexuality” which damaged morale.

He said: “The battalion was understrength, poorly led, and the Serbs came into town, handcuffed the soldiers to the telephone polls, marched the Muslims off and executed them.”

Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, told Gen Sheehan he was “totally off-target”.

“Did the Dutch leaders tell you it [the fall of Srebrenica] was because there were gay soldiers there?” Levin asked.

“Gen Sheehan replied: “Yes. They included that as part of the problem.”

Dutch defence ministry spokesman Roger van de Wetering refuted Gen Sheehan’s claims.

“It is astonishing that a man of his stature can utter such complete nonsense,” he said.

“The Srebrenica massacre and the involvement of UN soldiers was extensively investigated by the Netherlands, international organisations and the United Nations.

“Never was there in any way concluded that the sexual orientation of soldiers played a role.”

Senate hearings are being held to examine how the 1993 law banning out gay soldiers in the US military can be lifted.