Belgium to begin air strikes against ISIL in Syria
BRUSSELS – Agence France-Presse
REUTERS photoBelgium will extend its F-16 air strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants in Iraq into Syria, the government said May 13, as it grapples with the aftermath of deadly ISIL-claimed bomb attacks in Brussels in March.
“In accordance with U.N. Resolution 2249, the engagement will be limited to those areas of Syria under the control of ISIL and other terrorist groups,” a spokesman for Prime Minister Charles Michel told AFP after a cabinet meeting.
“The objective will be to destroy these groups’ refuges,” the spokesman said, adding that the strikes would begin on July 1.
Belgium launched its first attacks against ISIL in Iraq in late 2014 as part of the U.S.-led coalition, but decided against strikes in Syria amid public fears over getting dragged into a wider conflict.
However, the Nov. 13, 2015 Paris attacks which left 130 people dead brought home the ISIL threat to the heart of Europe and changed sentiment sharply.
In early March, Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said the government was reconsidering its position, as it did not make sense to attack ISIL in Iraq but not in Syria.
Along with the Netherlands and Denmark, Britain has also changed tack and launched its first sorties against ISIL targets in Syria in December.
Michel’s spokesman did not spell out the reason for the change in policy but it comes as Belgium is still reeling from the ISIL suicide bomber attacks at Brussels airport and on the metro on March 22 which killed 32 people.
The Paris and Brussels attacks have both been linked to the same jihadist cell with links to ISIL in Syria.
Early on May 13, Brett McGurk, U.S.’ Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, said that he was in Brussels to brief the North Atlantic Council and also meet senior Belgium officials on the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL.
“Just landed in #Brussels to brief the North Atlantic Council & meet senior #Belgium officials on our shared fight against #ISIL terrorists,” read McGurk’s tweet.