No End in Sight for Counter-Terror Military Deployments to Streets of Europe

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The deployment of thousands of troops to the streets of major European cities is to continue with no near end in sight, as the Belgian army admits their own homeland defence mission will run at least until 2020.

The missions which see tens of thousands of soldiers patrolling major tourist attractions, railway stations, schools, government buildings, and religious sites 24-hours a day in France and Belgium could become longer deployments than the Second World War, as there are no signs of the threat from radical Islamic terror abating.

Operations in France and Belgium began in January 2015 after the Île-de-France attacks which started with the massacre of Charlie Hebdo journalists and cartoonists in Paris, and ended with the Hypercacher Kosher supermarket siege, both by radical Islamists.

The operation was originally launched to help support “overly engaged” police, but has since become a permanent fixture of the Western European security picture.

As Belgium’s Operation Vigilant Guardian approaches the start of its third consecutive year, having continued through the Belgian declaration of a state of emergency in 2015 and the Brussels attacks in March 2016, new comments by an army general have revealed there are no plans to wind it down.

Speaking to Belgian Dutch language newspaper De Standaard, General Major Marc Thys acknowledged the high psychological strain placed on soldiers who are constantly patrolling trouble spots and high priority areas, and said the deployment will “certainly” run until 2020 at least.

Also known as Operation Homeland, the General expressed concern that the intensity of operations — in which troops are routinely deployed to inner-cities for six month stretches — means normal infantry training has been sacrificed. He told the paper he hoped deployments could be shortened to four-month rotations in time.

Another change would be the introduction of more foot patrols walking around key neighbourhoods, rather than stationary guard duties outside important buildings.

Yet another example of the sorts of attacks the soldiers on patrol have to deal with in the seemingly unending deployment to keep European cities peaceful was an attempted knife attack Saturday, in which a Somalian man carrying a knife was shot dead by troops after he wounded a soldier.

In addition to the knife, a search of the would-be murderer’s body also revealed a replica gun and two copies of the Quran.

The news of Belgium’s Operation Vigilant Guardian being extended into the next decade comes just weeks after similar news emerged in France, as the domestic Operation Sentinel was made permanent.

ArmyMinisterr Florence Parly made the announcement when she said the deployment would remain active for however long as was needed, as was reported by Le Figaro at the time. In an attempt to make the operation more “sustainable” for the long term, there would be changes to the way the on average 7,500 men on the mission were utilised.

There are presently some 18,000 people in France who are known as at-risk radicals.

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