September sees the end of an operation which brought military patrols on the streets of Belgium’s cities for more than five years, defence minister Philippe Goffin (MR) has announced.
The patrols of Operation Vigilant Guardian were intended to support the civilian police in maintaining order on the streets, and in protecting potentially vulnerable targets. The operation was launched in January 2015 following the discovery and dismantling of a terrorist cell in Verviers, and the attack in Paris on the magazine Charlie Hebdo.
The threat was stepped up in November 2015 with the attacks in Paris, which were rapidly linked to terrorist suspects in Brussels. Then, in March 2016, Belgium suffered attacks of its own, with bombs at the airport at Zaventem and on the Brussels metro.
At that point, the number of soldiers on the streets had risen to 1,800. In the time since, as the terrorist threat appeared to recede, the numbers were gradually reduced. Since December, the permanent patrol detail numbers no more than 200 soldiers, with a reserve that can be called on at a moment’s notice of 100 more.
In a written reply to a parliamentary question, Goffin explained that the police no longer require reinforcements.
“The Commissioner-General of the federal police has proposed a build-down plan to the Strategic Intelligence and Security Committee,” he wrote. “From September 2020, the police can resume security unaided, except at the nuclear site in Flanders.”
Meanwhile home affairs minister Pieter De Crem (CD&V), whose responsibilities include the operations of the police, declined to comment, De Tijd reports, preferring to wait until after the next meeting of government ministers.
The newspaper did however obtain a reaction from the police themselves.
“We have done our homework,” said spokesperson Sandra Eyschen. “[The plan] has been proposed to the intelligence and security committee, but it requires a political decision. For that reason we cannot give more information at this time.”