The Dutch government says it plans to join the U.S.-led coalition targeting the so-called Islamic State group in Syria with airstrikes.
The Dutch have been carrying out air raids in neighboring Iraq for months using four F-16 jets but have resisted extending the mission to Syria.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told journalists Friday,
“The recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Istanbul and Jakarta clearly show that ISIS is a danger for our security and our way of life. We will have our F-16s be more efficiently deployed by also having them be active in the Syrian part of the conflict, particularly hitting, for example, training centers and other facilities which replenish the capacity of ISIL to be active in the Iraqi side of the conflict, above Syria, in particular to stop the pipeline leading from Syria into Iraq. I do believe it is important as a coalition that we are active in the whole area.”
The Netherlands is already participating in the coalition by carrying out air strikes in Iraq with four F-16 aircraft specializing in close air support of ground operations by Iraqi forces but had insisted in the past that it would not extend the air strikes over Syria without a UN mandate.
Defense Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert said the decision means the coalition will “make more progress” against IS.
The Associated Press reported that the cabinet will outline Friday’s’ decision in Parliament, where it will likely be discussed in coming days. A majority of Dutch legislators supports airstrikes in Syria.
The Dutch change comes after both France and the United States asked the government to join the campaign. Late last year in the wake of the November Paris attacks, the Dutch government received a request from allies the United States and France to broaden its campaign against the ISIS.
The Express reported that extending the operation was made possible after the Dutch Labour Party, the junior partner in the coalition government, said this week it was open to the idea, creating a parliamentary majority.
Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said,
“We are convinced that only a consistent approach can bring back stability in Iraq and Syria.”
But he insisted bombing was not the whole solution in such a “complex conflict” in Syria as President Bashar al-Assad battles to stay in power, fighting both ISIS and moderate opposition rebels backed by the West.
The Netherlands is also considering providing more military equipment and training to Iraqi soldiers battling the militants. It will fund moderate, armed Syrian opposition groups and assist the reconstruction of schools and hospitals, the statement said.
The main opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) wanted an end to airstrikes and sieges of towns before talks can start and hencee, has refused to attend. The boycott eludes Washington, which has urged HNC to take up the “historic opportunity” for the talks, without preconditions.
Though in Washington, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter welcomed the move and praised the Dutch people for their commitment toward fighting extremists. Carter said in a statement,
“The lasting defeat of ISIL must be a global undertaking, because it is a global threat,”
Foreign military interventions are especially sensitive in the Netherlands, which led a disastrous U.N. peacekeeping mission in Bosnia in 1995 during which 8,000 Muslim men and boys were massacred by Serb forces.
A previous Dutch government collapsed in 2010 over participation in military operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan, where 2,000 troops were active.
In another development, the U.N. stated it would go ahead with peace talks in Syria despite a boycott by some opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.