After arriving in Belgium and spending a few days there, I decided I needed to speak with someone who had been in the country longer than me, preferably someone inside the military who could give their point of view on the security situation in Belgium. I headed over to Antwerp to meet a U.S. Air Force sergeant based in the area. He’d been in Belgium for a few years by that point, and had regular updates on the security situation throughout Europe. This was just a few weeks after the Paris attacks, and he was told not to set foot in Brussels, as U.S. service personnel were at high risk.
For obvious safety reasons, SOFREP cannot reveal this officer’s identity. This is what he had to say on the subject of Belgian security and terrorism.
When did you arrive in Belgium?
A little over two years ago.
What was the threat level like when you arrived?
It was there, but wasn’t really relevant because the fighting wasn’t brought to light for the public to recognize the ever-growing threat of ISIS in Western Europe.
How has the situation changed over the years?
Over the last few years, the threat has changed, I believe, due to the open borders in Europe, as well as the war in Syria drawing the insurgents into Syria and then recycling them back into Europe. This cycle has increased as time goes on.
Are the Belgian military and security forces up to the task of handling these threats?
I believe the Belgians do have units capable of conducting raids, however, I am not sure if they have enough to handle a situation where multiple targets were to be hit at once.
Why, in your own words, is Belgium a hotbed for terrorism?
The relaxed immigration policy that allows them to go in and out of the country as they please, and has caused places like Molenbeek to become known as the “terror den.”
Do the intelligence services share information with you?
Not with me directly, but we do get intel sent down regarding certain situations.
Is the U.S. sharing intel with the Belgian security services?
That depends on the situation. Certain things are classified and so they can’t be shared with them.
What is it like for U.S. service personnel living in Belgium?
It’s not bad in terms of panic, but those I know who do have families don’t feel safe going to work, leaving them home alone. We are unable to own firearms of our own, leaving our homes virtually defenseless.
What more needs to be done to combat terrorism in the area?
Stricter border checks to allow early detection of these individuals returning from fighting. This will be one of the best ways to stop these incidents. Also, maybe going on the offensive with hunting ISIS down.
What areas are hot in Belgium?
Molenbeek/Brussels, Charleroi, Antwerp, and Verviers.
Do you know what groups operate there?
ISIS, for sure. A quick Google search reveals that the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group has ties to Belgium, and that al-Qaeda is believed to be operating in some parts of the country. And of course there are the standard gangs.
Is there a real danger that Belgium is losing control?
I feel that they are not going to lose control given their sheer numbers. ISIS attacks with small groups. I don’t believe there are enough of them here to really topple Belgium. Perhaps if they hit key targets, such as parliament, or went after serious leaders or key players in the country in an effort to destabilize Belgium. Even then, the intent of terrorism is to instill fear in the population, so with any attack or even their known presence, they are accomplishing the definition of terrorism.
How good are the Belgian intel services?
Not really sure. I haven’t worked with their intel guys.
Have you worked with any of the Belgian security forces? What are they like?
I have worked with some Belgian military before. For the most part, they are similar in their ways of thinking to our military. However, I believe they lack real-world experience. They train, but training is usually only useful if you get to see the results of your training. Without really being tested in battle, I’m not sure if they would be up to the challenge.
There is definitely a feeling that not just Belgium but Europe in its entirety is losing control of its borders. This enables would-be terrorists to launch their operations at will. The more attacks that happen, the more the general public grows unsettled. We simply cannot track all the movements of would-be jihadis. I feel sorry that Belgium is viewed as this terrorist staging area, and I believe that Belgium should do more to contradict that image. I feel as though EU countries need to join together on this fight, and perhaps create a new unit that can operate freely across Europe. This would help countries like Belgium to counter the threat, and would take some of the burden off of their security apparatus.