The platform for Belgium's international community

Search form

menu menu
  • Daily & Weekly newsletters
  • Buy & download The Bulletin
  • Comment on our articles

Soldiers would ‘rather serve in Afghanistan’ than patrol Brussels

17:46 02/10/2017

According to an anonymous interview conducted by De Standaard newspaper as part of its “professional secrets” series, Belgium’s soldiers are tired of the ‘unworkable’ schedules that patrolling Brussels’ streets, stations and public events has required since the Paris terrorist attacks of 2015.

“I have served two years now in the ‘street military’ in Brussels,” a soldier told the paper. “People are always asking: Why are you standing here? You can’t see through someone’s clothes to know if they have a bomb.”

The point, he said, is not only to make the populace feel more secure but also to convince terrorists to have second thoughts. “To show them that we have major weapons and aren’t afraid to use them.”

Public patrols “are very useful,” the soldier concedes, “but it’s lasted way too long. When something happens, like at Zaventem or Verviers, then it’s a good idea to have the army presence. But after six months, that should be tapered off. The army should be seen as the last resort for a country. If it becomes normal, you don’t have a last resort.”

Condition of barracks is ‘awful’

Nobody wants to be posted to the Brussels patrol, the soldier said. “The conditions in the barracks where we sleep is awful. There are 300 of us stationed there, but it’s uninhabitable. Old, dilapidated rooms, cots shoved into corners, mattresses that look like they came from the dump. There’s rat poison in every hallway. I’ve seen areas closed off because of vermin, but when reinforcements showed up, the tape was torn off the door and six men stuck in there.”

The soldier, who previously spent four months patrolling an airport in Afghanistan, said that the schedule for Brussels street patrols was much more gruelling. “Three weeks in Brussels, then two weeks of your normal work, then three weeks in Brussels: It’s not maintainable. They are wearing us out doing it this way. You hear soldiers say: I’d be happy to go to Afghanistan for four months if it meant never having to go back to Brussels. Because when you go on a foreign mission, you know it’s temporary. You’ll soon have your normal life back.”

Written by Lisa Bradshaw