Partaking in NATO operations

NATO operations in which Belgium is involved

A. Afghanistan: International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)

1. Introduction

NATO’s principal role in Afghanistan is to assist the Afghan authorities in establishing control over the entire country, and in so doing contribute to the country’s reconstruction and development. Security and stability are essential if these goals are to be met. NATO’s primary instrument for creating a secure and stable environment in Afghanistan is the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Since 2001, the ISAF has been enforcing a UN Security Council mandate under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. The ISAF’s current mandate is based on UN Resolution 1833 dated 22 September 2008.

It should be noted that the ISAF is not a conventional UN peacekeeping operation, but is instead comprised of a group of nations known as the “coalition of the willing”. NATO assumed command of the ISAF in 2003; there are currently 50 countries contributing troops to the ISAF, including all NATO member countries. The ISAF is made up of a total of approximately 130,000 troops.

The primary duty of the ISAF is to ensure security and stability. The ISAF also supports Afghanistan’s reconstruction and development efforts with the help of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT), which are designed to strengthen Afghan institutions, the rule of law and good governance. At the request of the Afghan authorities, the ISAF can also offer assistance in combating illegal drugs.

At the NATO summit in Chicago in May 2012, the Heads of State and Government will address NATO’s strategic plan for Afghanistan, including an enduring structural partnership.

2. Belgian participation

Belgium substantially intensified its efforts in Afghanistan throughout 2009-2010. Meeting on 3 April 2009, the Council of Ministers decided to increase the Belgian contingent in Afghanistan from 500 to 560 people: 25 additional troops as well as two extra F-16 fighter-bombers were sent to Kandahar, bringing the total number of Belgian F-16s in Afghanistan to 6. The remaining 35 soldiers comprise a second, supplementary Operational Mentor and Liaison Team (OMLT) in Kunduz, which operates in conjunction with Germany. This team consists of a group of instructors who are tasked with the duty of training and mentoring members of the Afghan National Army. The largest Belgian contingent (approximately 500 people) continues to be responsible for providing security at the Kabul airport.

The Belgian government determined that these operations should not be limited strictly to the military domain, given that the civilian component of the mission is also extremely important. This is why Belgium increased its financial contribution to development cooperation to roughly €15 million in 2012. This commitment is in keeping with the 3D security strategy for Afghanistan (Defence, Development, Diplomacy).

The Belgian government will maintain its civilian and military efforts in Afghanistan until 2014.
Belgium has decided (Inner Cabinet meeting on 29 June 2011) to begin phasing out its military contribution to the ISAF by withdrawing the contingent that is responsible for guarding the Kabul airport in 2012. The missions in Kunduz and Kandahar will be maintained.

B. Operation Unified Protector

1. Introduction

Between March and October 2011, in enforcement of UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973, NATO, together with other contributing countries (Qatar, UAE, Jordan), carried out three military missions in Libya under the name of “Operation Unified Protector” (OUP):

  • Enforcement of an arms embargo at sea and in the air: NATO vessels patrolled the Libyan coast beginning in late March.
  • Enforcement of a no-fly-zone (NFZ) over Libya aimed primarily at preventing Gaddafi’s use of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.
  • Protection of the civilian population from military attacks: NATO aircraft destroyed tanks and artillery posing a direct threat to the civilian population. 

2. Belgian participation

Belgium participated in “Operation Unified Protector” (OUP):

  • Six F-16s based at Araxos Air Base (Greece) were deployed in support of the no-fly-zone and to protect the civilian population (NFZ+).
  • The “Narcis” minesweeper was sent to the Libyan coast to help enforce the arms embargo.

C. Kosovo: Kosovo Force (KFOR)

1. Introduction

Since June 1999, NATO has been directing the Kosovo Force (KFOR) operation, which is designed to support broader international efforts to secure peace and security in Kosovo. KFOR’s mandate was laid down in UN Security Council Resolution 1244 dated 12 June 1999 under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

KFOR must eventually be transformed into a leaner reaction force. Ideally, KFOR will gradually render itself superfluous over time such that the entire operation can be brought to a close.

2. Belgian participation

The approximately 210 Belgian troops that were deployed in Kosovo as part of the Multinational Task Force (MTNF) in Mitrovica (northern Kosovo) were withdrawn at the end of March 2010.
Belgium continues to take part in EULEX, the EU’s civilian mission in Kosovo, by providing a contingent of approximately 30 judges, police officers and other officials.