Military patrols will be maintained on the streets of the country’s cities until 2 December at the earliest, the government has decided.
In May this year, the caretaker administration of Sophie Wilmès took the decision to bring an end to the patrols in September. However the new government of Alexander De Croo said it considers it advisable to allow the patrols to remain a little longer.
The idea was proposed by defence minister Ludivine Dedonder (PS) and home affairs minister Annelies Verlinden (CD&V).
Operation Vigilant Guardian, as it is called, was set up in January 2015, more than a year before the terrorist attacks on Brussels, as a reaction to the attack in Paris on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, and the breaking-up of a terrorist cell in Verviers in Liege province.
Then in March 2016 the attacks took place on Brussels Airport and the Brussels metro, and the presence of armed military personnel on the streets, increased to a maximum of 1,800 personnel, seemed set in stone.
However the numbers were brought down to 200 on permanent patrol, and a reserve of 100 that could be called in as reinforcement.
With the arrival of the Covid-19 epidemic, the soldiers found other roles. Security patrols were increased as shops, schools and other premises were closed. Military personnel were also deployed to reinforce the police at transport stations.
Last month the risk analysis agency OCAD presented a new analysis of the situation in Belgium: the country as a whole was at level 2 (of four) with the exception of certain specific potential targets, which were rated at level 3.
But the soldiers will not disappear completely, the government explained in a press release.
“Defence support will remain at a maximum of 550 military personnel for a period of one month, from November 3, 2020 to December 2, 2020. That number also takes into account a reserve capacity that can be deployed immediately.”
The reserve capacity is likely to be maintained after 2 December, however, although the details will remain secret.