Denmark to expand military mission against Islamic State into Syria

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Denmark’s government will present proposals soon to expand its mission against Islamic State into Syria, including air strikes, Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen’s office said on Friday.

Smoke rises after what activists said was an airstrike conducted by the United States and its allies targeting positions controlled by Islamic State fighters near al-Hawl area where fighting between rebel fighters from the Democratic Forces of Syria and Islamic State fighters are taking place in the south-eastern city of Hasaka, Syria November 10, 2015. REUTERS/Rodi Said

If approved by parliament, F-16 fighters, C130J transport aircraft and 400 military personal, including special operations forces and support staff, would take part in the Syria campaign by the middle of the year. Danish forces have already seen action against Islamic State in Iraq.

Parliament is expected to vote on the proposals in separate readings on April 1 and April 19. The main political parties have already said they backed the proposal, at a cross-party committee meeting that included the defense and foreign ministers.

Denmark’s expanded mission into Syria comes after direct requests from France and the United States, Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen told reporters after the committee meeting.

The defense ministry said the larger mission would make Denmark one of the highest contributors per capita in the fight against the militant group.

“The fight against ISIL will be long and the terrorist organization’s horrible ideology cannot be defeated with military means alone,” its statement said, using a different acronym used for Islamic State.

“Therefore the government will also increase efforts along the civilian track - stabilization of liberated areas, stopping ISIL’s finiancial sources, stopping foreign fighters and counteracting ISIL’s propaganda,” it said.

Denmark contributed seven F-16 in 2014 to the U.S.-led coalition’s air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq but pulled them back for maintenance last year. The jets are expected to return to service in the coming months.

Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen called for Danish air strikes in Syria following the multiple attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 that killed 130 people.

Denmark, whose former prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, served as the head of NATO until 2014, has a history of military contributions in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Reporting by Teis Jensen; Annabella Nielsen and Nikolaj Skydsgaard, writing by Sabina Zawadzki,; editing by Larry King