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Belgium extends Iraq air mission

Belgium said Thursday six F-16 fighter jets would continue operations until the end of the year as part of the US-led coalition trying to force back Islamic State militants in Iraq.

The former Socialist-led government of premier Elli Di Rupo approved an initial month-long deployment, which includes 120 military personnel, in early September.

The new centre-right government of Charles Michel had now “decided to extend the operation to December 31,” the defence ministry said.

It gave no reason for the extension of the mission which involves operations in Iraq alone, not Syria where IS has also made huge gains.

Last month, Washington put together a coalition of states desperate to halt IS after the militants reached the outskirts of Baghdad as Iraqi forces disintegrated.

The operations, along with other aid, have so far helped halt but not completely reverse IS gains.

The six Belgian F-16 fighters are based in Jordan, carrying out a variety of missions, including bombing attacks against IS forces.

Belgium has expressed mounting concerns over IS, with around 350 to 400 of its nationals estimated to have gone to fight with them and other radical groups in Iraq and Syria.

France, Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands have also limited their aircraft to Iraqi operations while the US and several Arab coalition partners have launched air strikes against IS in Syria.