THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The Netherlands will broaden its role in the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State to include the bombing of IS targets in Syria, the government said on Friday.
A Dutch squadron of six F-16 fighter jets is already stationed in the region, but was hitherto limited to striking Islamic State positions in Iraq.
The aircraft will now be active over Syria until July 1, targeting Islamic State insurgent operations and training camps, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told journalists in The Hague.
Islamic State’s bombing and shooting attacks on Paris that killed 130 people in November had already led France and Britain to step up their bombing campaigns in Syria and Iraq.
“We have decided to heed the call of our allies for expansion of the operational area of our F-16s to the east of Syria to further weaken ISIS’s supply lines and ability to advance,” Rutte said, using another acronym for Islamic State.
“Only by taking away ISIS’s safe havens in Iraq and Syria can we prevent more attacks.”
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.
In a statement on Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter welcomed the expanded role for the Netherlands, and said it set a strong example ahead of a planned February gathering in Brussels among members of the U.S.-led military coalition.
Carter met with Dutch Minister of Defense Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert and other defense chiefs in Paris last week to discuss the campaign against Islamic State. A joint statement by the ministers re-committed their governments to work with the U.S.-led coalition “to accelerate and intensify the campaign.”
“I am grateful for Minister Hennis-Plasschaert’s immediate action following last week’s meeting, and for the continuing commitment from the Dutch people to this fight,” Carter said in the Friday statement.
Extending the military operation became possible when the Dutch Labour Party, junior partner in the coalition government, said this week it was open to the idea, creating a parliamentary majority for it.
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 in a controversy over participation in military operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan, where 2,000 troops were active.
Writing by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Alison Williams and Andrew Hay