Sunday, January 20, 2008

Poland became the latest of several Western and Arab countries to pledge military aid to Lebanon

DUBAI, UAE — The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) has begun to establish a joint Special Operations command to group the military’s elite units.
“The Lebanese Special Operations Command is being structured, and staffing has started after a commander was selected to head the job,” a senior Lebanese military official said.
Lebanese Special Operations forces will include the airborne brigade, the Commandos Regiment, the Sea Commandos Regiment and the military intelligence Counter-Sabotage Regiment, which also handles terrorism, the official said.
“The initial size of the force will be around 5,000 troops, which is just under the strength of two brigades,” he said. “But the ultimate goal is to build the force to be two to three brigades within few years.”
Lebanese defense analysts hailed the move as necessary and overdue.
“The threats facing Lebanon are mostly asymmetrical in nature involving armed militias and extremists entrenched in Palestinian refugee camps,” said Ahmed Temsah, a Beirut defense analyst and retired Lebanese Air Force brigadier general. “So the elite units would be better suited and properly armed to confront such challenges than regular troops.”
Operationally, the LAF has been relatively unaffected by the country’s political turmoil, going about its business professionally, the senior Lebanese military official said.
Yet the LAF chief, Lt. Gen. Michel Suleiman, may soon become embroiled in politics. After President Emile Lahoud’s term ended Nov. 24, rival Lebanese political factions and the League of Arab States nominated Suleiman to take the job.
But the Lebanese constitution forbids a senior civil service employee and military officers to run for elections.
The factions behind Suleiman’s nomination have yet to agree on the political process that would amend the constitution and bring him into office.
Suleiman paid a Jan. 14 visit to the Special Operations training base in Roumieh, watching a joint exercise by troops from the Commandos Regiments and the Counter-Sabotage Regiment.
“The LAF today is more unified and more immune to internal divisions than before because of the sacrifices in blood its troops made in battles with terrorism last year,” he told the troops afterwards.
Suleiman was referring to the three-month battles between the LAF and al-Qaida-affiliated extremists of Fatah Al-Islam at the Palestinian Nahr Al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon.
More Aid
Poland became the latest of several Western and Arab countries to pledge military aid to Lebanon with a promise to deliver by March $12 million in ammunition, including some for the LAF’s Soviet-built T-54/55 tanks, 130mm guns, 120mm mortars and multiple-rocket launchers, the military official said.
A Belgian promise to sell 40 Leopard 1 tanks and 32 YPR armored infantry fighting vehicles to Beirut is expected to become reality soon, now that a government needed to endorse the deal has formed in Brussels.
The latest batch of U.S. materiel, 100 two-and-half-ton trucks, arrived on Dec. 22.
“By the end of January 2008, the U.S. will have provided 200 cargo trucks with more expected throughout 2008,” said a statement by the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. “In addition, the U.S. recently provided to the LAF ammunition worth more than $3.5 million, fulfilling a request made by the government of Lebanon. In the past two years, the U.S. has provided more than $271 million dollars in grant assistance to the LAF.”
Sources at the LAF expect the U.S. aid to continue as strong in 2008 and anticipate the value of the new aid package to be in the range of $200 million. U.S. Embassy officials could not confirm this figure or say how much would be given. å