Netherlands to join US-led air strikes against ISIS in Syria

"ISIS is a danger for our security and our way of life,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (above) told journalists on Friday.
"ISIS is a danger for our security and our way of life,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (above) told journalists on Friday.PHOTO: REUTERS

THE HAGUE (AFP) - Bowing to US demands, the Dutch government announced on Friday it will take part in US-led air strikes in Syria against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, extending its current air support mission over Iraq.

"In order to make the fight against ISIS in Iraq more efficient, it has been decided to carry out air strikes against ISIS in eastern Syria," the foreign and defence ministries said in a statement.

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 militant group.

"The recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Istanbul and Jakarta clearly show that ISIS is a danger for our security and our way of life," Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told journalists Friday.

"We are going to deploy the F-16s above Syria, in particular to stop the pipeline leading from Syria into Iraq," he said, referring to the movements of ISIS fighters.

The Netherlands is already participating in the coalition by carrying out air strikes in Iraq with four F-16 aircraft specialising in close air support of ground operations by Iraqi forces.

But it had insisted in the past that it would not extend the air strikes over Syria without a UN mandate.

But Rutte said Friday: "I do believe it is important as a coalition that we are active in the whole area."

US air strikes in Iraq began in August 2014 after ISIS captured a swathe of territory in Iraq and Syria in a lightning offensive.

Washington and Arab allies broadened the strikes against ISIS in Syria a month later in September 2014, with the US also leading moves to build an international coalition of some 60 nations against the extremists.

The F-16s "can really make an impact," Rutte insisted, saying the planes will be "more effectively deployed... particularly hitting training centres and other facilities" in Syria which are helping ISIS fighters in Iraq.

The four Dutch F-16 jet fighters which have been pounding ISIS militants in Iraq since October 2014 would "remain active until July 1 over the enlarged zone," the government statement said.

Dutch troops would also increase their support for training Iraqi and peshmerga forces, Rutte said.

"We are convinced that only a consistent approach can bring back stability in Iraq and Syria," said Foreign Minister Bert Koenders.

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.

After weeks of dallying, the junior partner in the ruling coalition, the Labour Party (PvdA), Tuesday finally agreed to back an extension of air strikes into Syria, paving the way for approval from parliament.

High-stakes peace talks aimed at ending the brutal, five-year-old Syrian conflict which has left over 260,000 dead and created millions of refugees were due to start later Friday in Geneva.

But there was uncertainty whether the key groups would attend, even though the Syrian government delegation had arrived in the Swiss city.

France decided to launch air strikes against ISIS in the wake of the Nov 13 attacks which left 130 people dead, targeting the ISIS stronghold of Raqa.

Britain also joined in late last year, while Russian planes have been flying sorties over Syria since September.