Belgium, Netherlands to Support Air Campaign in Iraq

The two European countries join the war against the Islamic State stop short of joining airstrikes against Syria.

Two Dutch F-16 fighter jets take off from Leeuwarden Air Base for a training mission
Two Dutch F-16 fighter jets take off from Leeuwarden Air Base for a training mission (Ministerie van Defensie)

Belgium and the Netherlands said on Wednesday they would join Arab and American airstrikes against Islamic militants in Iraq but stop short of carrying out attacks in neighboring Syria where the group that calls itself the Islamic State is also active.

While Iraq’s government has formally asked other countries to help it battle the Islamic State, Dutch ruling Labor Party leader Diederik Samsom said on Sunday his party could only support military action in Syria under an international mandate. However, a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing strikes is likely to be blocked by Russia, an ally of Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad.

There is nevertheless strong parliamentary support in the Netherlands for joining the war against the Islamic State. Deputy Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher told a news conference Wednesday night six Dutch F-16s would be made available for strikes for a year while two more fighter jets will remain on standby.

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the defense minister, added the jets would likely operate out of Jordan. She also said Dutch military personnel would be deployed to Iraq to advise and train local soldiers.

A majority of Belgian lawmakers also favors participating in the effort. The caretaker government there needs parliament’s backing before sending six F-16s.

Hundreds of Belgian and Dutch Muslims are believed to have joined the Islamic State’s jihad. The group controls an arc of territory from Aleppo in Syria to near the western edge of Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, and has made itself notorious by slaughtering nonbelievers and beheading foreigners.

France already carries out strikes with Rafale fighter jets operating out of the United Arab Emirates. Australia sent warplanes of its own to the same country while Britain is expected to join the alliance soon.

The United States first launched airstrikes against the Iraqi militants in August when they menaced the territory of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government in the north of the country. Western powers, including France, Germany and the United Kingdom, have since supplied weapons to the Kurds to help them fend off the Islamic State’s attacks.

Earlier this week, American cruise missiles and warplanes, launches from navy ships and an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea as well as bases in allied Arab monarchies, struck Islamic State targets in Syria. Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates participated in the attacks while Qatar provided logistical support.

The mission was not limited to hitting the Islamic State. The United States said jets also struck eight targets associated with another terrorist organization in Syria made of up Al Qaeda veterans.

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