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Belgian troops leave for Romania as Nato strengthens eastern borders

Belgian soldiers on a training exercise (EUROMIL/Daniel Orban)
06:39 09/03/2022

The majority of the 300 Belgian soldiers assigned to back up Nato forces in Romania flew out from Brussels' military airport Melsbroek on Tuesday.

Mainly stationed in Marche-en-Famenne, the soldiers will be under the command of a French battalion while in Romania.

The deployment of Belgian and French forces to the country comes after Nato's decision to mobilise the NRF, Nato's Response Force, following Russia's attack on Ukraine. The mission of the troops deployed in the NRF is to defend Nato's external borders. Romania is bordered by Ukraine and Moldova.

The departure of Belgian soldiers from the Melsbroek military base took place in the presence of prime minister Alexander De Croo, the minister of defence Ludivine Dedonder, the chief of defence, admiral Michel Hofman, and the commander of the land component, major general Pierre Gérard.

"What is important is to give the signal that the Nato countries will defend themselves,” said De Croo. “We do not agree with what is happening in Ukraine, but we will not tolerate touching the Nato countries. We guarantee our security in solidarity with other countries."

"This is the first time that this fast Nato force has been deployed,” Dedonder added. “We are sending several hundred soldiers to protect the Alliance's borders because indeed, no one believed in it, but there is a war on the European continent."

"Our mission is one of protection, and deterrence to secure a territory,” she added. “We have no indication today that Russia could target a Nato country."

The Belgian soldiers being deployed to Romania come from the "1/3 battalion of lancers", resulting from the merger of the 1st and the 3rd regiment of lancers. They are barracked in Marche-en-Famenne, belong to the land component of the Belgian armed forces and are part of the motorised brigade.

The head of the land component, major general Pierre Gérard, explained last week, when the battalion was preparing to leave, that these soldiers have been trained to intervene as part of the Nato Rapid Intervention Force. For this, they went through 15 months of training, including 11 week-long camps in the Czech Republic, Germany and Belgium. They were "Nato certified" in December 2021.

The battalion has already been deployed to Kosovo and Afghanistan on several occasions. In 2016, the battalion was also deployed to Lithuania for a month, following a Nato decision to protect member countries that could be at risk of Russian aggression, following Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Their deployment In Romania is planned for an indefinite period. However, last Thursday, during the visit of the minister of defence to the barracks of Marche-en-Famenne, a period of three to six months was announced, to be adapted "according to the evolution of the situation on the ground".

The Belgian detachment in Romania is made up, in addition to the military intended for combat, of managerial and logistical support personnel, artillerymen and engineering specialists. A medical contingent is also expected to be deployed.

While deploying men to Romania to defend Nato, Belgium is already active on the eastern flank of the alliance. Belgium also defends Nato in the airspace of the Baltic States

Four Belgian F-16s and about 50 soldiers have been deployed in Estonia since the end of 2021 to contribute to the air police of the Baltic countries. The four F-16s have since been assigned a larger area to monitor. Belgium has also expressed its readiness to provide two additional F-16s, if requested.

Nato does not intervene on Ukrainian territory since Ukraine is not a member of the alliance. The Belgian military will therefore not be required to operate on Ukrainian soil. In contrast, Belgium has provided direct military assistance to Ukraine in the form of equipment.

In response to Ukrainian president Zelensky's request for help, Belgium announced at the end of February the dispatch of FNC model assault rifles. Initially, Belgium decided to send 2,000 assault rifles. It then added an extra 3,000 to bring the number of machine guns shipped to Ukraine to 5,000. 200 anti-tank missiles completed the batch of armaments, to which Belgium has added 3,800 tons of fuel.

Last Wednesday, the minister of defence, confirmed that most of this stockpile of armaments had already arrived in Ukraine.

Prior to this shipment of military equipment, Belgium had decided to send military protection equipment, mainly helmets and bulletproof vests. The defence department has also provided Ukraine with observation equipment, such as binoculars.

Finally, B-Fast, the team specialized in emergency aid, has been put on alert. The military hospital in Neder-Over-Heembeek is also ready to receive wounded Ukrainians, especially burn victims.

Written by Nick Amies