The continuing threat of Daesh, the terrorist attack in Paris in January and November 2015 and the migrant crisis have engendered new operations for many European armies including the Belgian Land Component which represents almost 85% of the 12,000 men and women of the Belgian Armed Forces deployed in 2015.
With a heavy presence in Africa, Belgium will in 2016 continue those operations currently underway. A detachment of 90 personnel from the 12/13 Line of the Land Component will maintain the mission to protect instructors of EUTM-Mali (European Union Training Mission in Mali) until 18th May 2016 when the Belgian mandate ends. Various different options are being studied for afterwards “but our wish is to stay” says Colonel Bart Hubrechtsen of the Operations and Training department at Staff Headquarters.
A Belgian officer will continue the liaison mission within the command post of the Barkhan operation in the northern French city of Lille whilst a second Belgian officer will also remain in the MINUSMA (the UN Mission in Mali) where Belgium will raise its presence by deploying a specialised intelligence unit. Brussels will also continue its long-term partnership with army of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In addition, the Land Component will work to consolidate the 31st Brigade of the Congolese army, a rapid reaction unit deployed in Kivu (eastern DRC) and will continue its ground work in the framework of MONUSCO, the UN’s Stabilisation Mission in the DRC.
Confronted by the growing terrorist threat in northern Africa and the Sahel, Belgium will again deploy 15 men from the Special Forces Group in Tunisia in the framework of operation Griffin. These men have been working since last year, training Tunisian special forces who are now present on all fronts notably after the attacks against the Bardo museum in March and in Sousse last June. “A win-win mission for the Belgian special forces who are learning from the lessons learned by their Tunisian colleagues,” remarks Commander Guy Schotte, in charge of operations at Staff Headquarters. Operation Griffin will continue in 2016 with Belgian special forces supplying a broad spectre of training ranging from the handling of improvised explosive devices to psychological operations via the protection of airfields.
Finally, about 30 Belgian soldiers will take part exercise Flintlock 2016 in Senegal and Mauritania. Together with British, Danish and U.S. soldiers, amongst others, they will provide anti-terrorist training to a group from 14 north African armies.
Come back tomorrow for the second and final part of this article!