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Belgian and Dutch F-16s offered

September 24, 2014

Belgium and the Netherlands each look set to send fighter jets and support personnel to join a US-led coalition battling militants in Iraq. Syria is excluded from the two European nations' deployment plans.

NATO Manöver in Polen 09.09.2014
Image: Reuters/Kacper Pempel

On Wednesday, leaders from the Netherlands and Belgium outlined plans to join the battle to stop advances by fighters for the "Islamic State" (IS) in northern Iraq. Each nation would send six F-16 jets, which are likely to be based in Jordan.

Deputy Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher said the Netherlands would also send about 130 military tutors to Iraq to train Kurdish and Iraqi fighters battling IS militias.

Asscher said the move was in response to Iraq's appeals for help from the international community. He said he did not see a mandate for Syria.

"In Iraq's case there is a clear request," Asscher said.

Belgium's involvement still depends on approval by its parliament. Defense Minister Pieter De Crem said Washington had sent a formal request on Tuesday. Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said the F-16s would be "limited to Iraq."

To be based in Jordan

Belgium's Defense Ministry announced that the F-16s would be based in Jordan, one of the five Arab nations that have joined the US-led coalition. The planes would be accompanied by around 120 personnel, the ministry announced. The Dutch planes would come with 250 pilots and support staff.

The IS group's advances and terror acts prompted the United States to launch airstrikes in Iraq last month.

On Monday night, the US-led aerial attacks were extended to include IS targets in northern Syria, where IS also holds swaths of territory.

Since late last week, some 140,000 Syrian Kurds have fled into Turkey as IS fighters pressed their campaign to capture Kobani,a Kurdish city on the border with Turkey.

France sent Rafale fighter jets into action in Iraq last week, and British media reported that parliament could be recalled on Friday to decide whether to join up.

German officials say the country has limited its role to training and arming Kurdish Peshmerga fighters battling IS in northern Iraq.

Risk 'at home' acknowledged

The Netherlands' Asscher acknowledged risks at home from involvement.

"The Netherlands will gain a higher profile among jihadis. We are ready," Asscher said. "The threat profile is monitored permantly and our security services are prepared."

Visiting the UN General Assembly in New York, Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans called for detailed documentation of human rights abuses in Syria.

He said a "huge" amount of information needed to be gathered from witnesses and Syrian refugees: "That is the only way to ensure that criminals do not avoid their punishment."

Coalition durability unclear

Edward Djerejian, a former US Ambassador to Syria and Israel, told the news agency Reuters that just two weeks after President Barack Obama launched the coalition its durability was still unclear.

"We just don't know how robust the coalition will be in terms of staying together. That's the big question," Djerjian said.

The five Arab nations that took part or supported the US-led airstrikes in Syria were Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar.

One regional nation largely mute on the US-led military campaign is Turkey, a NATO member that has taken in large numbers of refugees along its border with Syria.

ipj/mkg (AFP, Reuters, AP)