Federal home affairs minister Pieter De Crem (CD&V) has expressed surprise at a promise made by his government colleague Philippe Goffin (MR), in charge of defence, to cut the number of troops still patrolling the streets in Belgium, coming up to three years after the terrorist attacks of March 2016.
Goffin made the remarks on New Year’s Eve, on a visit to the troops stationed permanently in the diamond quarter in Antwerp. The request to stand down a large number of the troop presence in Brussels and Antwerp comes from the military itself.
Soldiers have joined police in patrolling the streets since January 2015 following the attack in Paris on Charlie Hebdo, and their numbers peaked after the attacks in Paris in November 2015, followed by the attacks in Brussels in March the following year.
Since then, though, the peak of 1,800 soldiers on active duty in the cities has been reduced, while at the same time static posts have been replaced by mobile patrols within defined areas.
The numbers taking part in patrols now is around 415, but that figure could be reduced, Goffin said, to 200 full-time and another 100 in reserve. Since the cuts would affect police deployment, he said, he was waiting for the approval of the home affairs minister, De Crem himself, before continuing.
According to his spokesperson, De Crem was “surprised” by the announcement. The matter, he said, comes up at each meeting of the council of ministers every month. “To my knowledge, the request to deploy fewer soldiers on the streets has not yet been passed.” On the contrary, the council of ministers at its last meeting on 20 December specifically agreed to maintain the numbers at 550 until 2 February at the earliest.