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Soldiers guard Europe’s streets from terrorism

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Critics say that weakens them in war.

Washington Post

By Michael Birnbaum

BRUSSELS — Green army trucks are rumbling across the cobbled streets of Brussels. Stiff-spined soldiers are patrolling the Champs-Elysees in Paris. Italian troops are guarding the Colosseum. And critics say the years-long deployments at home are sapping the ability of these militaries to fight wars.

Taken together, the domestic deployments — to guard against terrorism — are among the largest in Western Europe since World War II. They come as European militaries are tapped to address an unusually wide range of challenges at once: a resurgent Russia, grinding conflicts in the Middle East, migration across the Mediterranean and smaller wartime deployments far from their borders.

Confronted by terrorism, European leaders rushed their armies onto their streets in the aftermath of attacks starting in 2015. Although advocates say the deployments help bolster security, the peacetime duty has stretched forces thin.

Until recently, 40 percent of Belgium’s combat-ready soldiers were devoted to domestic guard duty. Some officers worry that the lack of time to practice warfare means basic skills are getting rusty. In France, the former leader of the military said last month that he quit in July in part to protest that his forces were “overheating.”

President Trump has pressed NATO allies to commit more toward their own defense and to international missions, but the domestic deployments have made that a challenge. The latest sign came last month at a meeting of defense chiefs in Brussels, when the alliance fell short on pledges toward the NATO training operation in Afghanistan.

In Belgium, a country of 11 million people, military leaders say their troops are feeling the strain.

“I had machine gunners with the rifle section who didn’t fire a machine gun in 16 months because they had become riflemen,” said Maj. Gen. Marc Thys, commander of Belgium’s land forces. “It’s like asking our national team that hasn’t played a game of soccer all year to go to the world championships. It doesn’t work.”

Until October, 1,250 Belgian soldiers were deployed across the country, guarding grand boulevards, train stations and other crowded public places that make tempting targets. The intention was to increase public safety and to give police officers more freedom to do investigative work rather than tie them up on guard duty.

Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/soldiers-guard-europes-streets-from-terrorism-critics-say-that-weakens-them-in-war/2017/12/03/0312584e-b87a-11e7-9b93-b97043e57a22_story.html?utm_term=.efaeb06e3696