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Belgium sends fighter pilots to Iraq

12:05 29/09/2014

Six Belgian F16 fighter planes took off from Belgium last Friday to join the international military coalition tackling the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group.

A parliamentary vote was needed as the country is currently without a federal government. But the F16s took off for the Middle East before parliament had voted to approve the mission, which angered some MPs.

The military mission was finally approved late on Friday afternoon, with 114 MPs supporting the action, two voting against and 10 abstaining.

The government is sending the aircraft in response to a written request from the US government calling on Belgium to join the “coalition of the willing” dedicated to eliminating IS forces in Iraq.

In an interview with VTM news, outgoing defence minister Pieter De Crem said that the federal government was now taking measures to protect soldiers in uniform, following threats of reprisals.

“The Belgian government takes threats by Islamic State extremely seriously,” he said. “We realise that there are risks attached to our participation, but we are not going to shirk our responsibility.”

The Belgian aircraft are due to begin reconnaissance flights today and to carry out their first missions above Iraq by the middle of the week. They will operate under US command within a framework drawn up by the Belgian government, which allows attacks on IS targets in Iraq but not in neighbouring Syria.

Meanwhile, outgoing prime minister Elio Di Rupo spoke on Friday at the United Nations’ general assembly, where he linked the recent killing of four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels to the current conflict in Iraq and Syria.

He told the assembly that the man accused of carrying out the shooting was a French national who had spent time fighting with IS before returning to Europe. “These foreign fighters represent a threat to every country in the world,” Di Rupo said.

He went on to say that military action alone would not solve the problem and that education was necessary to deradicalise the fighters.


Photo: Peter Gronemann/Wikimedia Commons

Written by Derek Blyth