Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 fighter jets will be pulled out of the mission against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria at the end of the year, the Dutch government said Friday.
“Cabinet has decided not to prolong the use of F-16s in the fight against IS past December 31,” the Dutch cabinet said in a statement on Friday, September 16.
Four Dutch F-16s have been striking ISIS in Iraq since October 2014, and operations were expanded when the planes flew their first missions into Syria in early 2016. The support detachment consists of approximately 150 military personnel, according to the Ministry of Defence. Two additional jets are in reserve.
According to NL Times, the Dutch F-16s were fitted with new gear after their missions in Syria were hampered by a lack of advanced communications equipment.
Between October 2014 and July 2016, Air Task Force Middle East flew more than 2,100 missions and carried out over 1,800 sorties. Belgium continued the F-16 airstrikes until the end of April 2017 with Dutch military personnel securing the Belgian detachment.
The Netherlands renewed airstrikes on January 5.
“The end of the military battle against IS is in sight,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Friday.
“At the same time IS in Iraq has transformed itself into an underground organisation that primarily focuses on [terror] attacks,” he told journalists during his weekly press conference.
The Dutch input in Iraq will shift from offensives against ISIS to strengthening safety across Iraq “in order for people to safely return home and get on with their lives,” the government said.
A maximum of 50 Dutch troops will be deployed to northern Iraq to “train to keep areas safe that have been liberated from” ISIS.
Three to a dozen Dutch special forces will stay in Baghdad to continue training Iraqi forces.
A further 20 military and civil experts will remain part of NATO’s capacity-building mission in Iraq, which focuses “on the strengthening of the Iraqi security sector,” the government said.
In June, the Dutch defense ministry said that the Netherlands would end its troop contribution to the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali next May. Those troops will be sent to Afghanistan to “extend and intensify” the Dutch contribution to NATO’s Resolute Support mission, according to the ministry.
With reporting from AFP