September 24, 2014 / 9:43 AM / 5 years ago

Netherlands to send F-16s to fight Islamic State in Iraq

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The Dutch government said on Wednesday it would deploy six F-16 fighter jets, which could be operational in a week, to support the U.S.-led strikes against Islamic State insurgents in Iraq.

The Netherlands, a member of NATO and a close U.S. ally, will target the ultra-radical Islamist militants in Iraq and provide training and advice to Iraqi and Kurdish regional military forces for a period of up to one year, Deputy Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher told journalists.

“We regard IS as a grave threat, not just for the region it is destabilising, not just for the (non-Muslim) minorities who are being put through the most terrible torment, but for the whole world,” Asscher said, announcing the deployment of a maximum of 380 personnel to the region.

He said the Iraqi government’s request for support gave the Netherlands adequate legal justification to take part in the military intervention.

There was no such clear justification in the case of Syria, but he said the Netherlands “understood” the new U.S.-led bombing campaign against IS and associated militants in the country neighbouring Iraq.

Defence Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert said the training personnel deployed to the region would not play a role in front-line conflict and would be stationed in as safe an environment as possible.

Although the Dutch mission will initially be in Iraqi air space, it could be broadened to include Syria, she said.

“We are not ruling out taking part in Syria, but for now we are limiting participation to Iraq and we will follow international developments,” said Hennis-Plasschaert.

The decision was announced after a special cabinet meeting had been called by the government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who was expected to detail the plan at the U.N. Security Council in New York later on Wednesday.

The United States on Tuesday launched air strikes against militant targets in Syria for the first time after weeks of operations against Islamic State strongholds in Iraq.

The Netherlands was not among nations approached by U.S. President Barack Obama at a NATO meeting in Wales earlier this month, when he was building a coalition of allies against the offshoot of al Qaeda.

Dutch military participation will also have to be approved by the 150-seat parliament, but a majority was expected to support the proposal put forward by the coalition government.

The Netherlands has 61 operational F-16s, which have been deployed in recent NATO operations and most recently took part in combat operations in Afghanistan.

Reporting by Anthony Deutsch and Thomas Escritt, editing by Mark Heinrich; Editing by Tom Heneghan

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