U.S. ambassador to Lebanon David Hale revealed on Friday after meeting PM Tammam Salam at the Grand Serail that his country is doubling the baseline amount of U.S. military assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces this year compared to last.
“America believes that the army is the sole institution with the legitimacy and mandate to defend the country and its people. To fulfill its mission, it must have the necessary equipment and training,” said Hale .
“We are more than doubling the baseline amount of U.S. military assistance we are providing to the Lebanese Armed Forces this year compared to last. This means that America is committing $150 million of U.S. assistance funds to the Lebanese Armed Forces for the upcoming year,” added the ambassador.
“These funds will allow the LAF to buy munitions, improve close air support, sustain vehicles and aircraft, modernize airlift capacity, provide training to its soldiers, and add to the mobility of armored units.
“In sum, it will help ensure the LAF is even better prepared to counter the threats facing Lebanon. This amount is in addition to the $59 million in border security equipment I announced last week for the army,” he emphasized.
Hale revealed last week that the US contributed $1.3 billion in security assistance for Lebanon in the past 10 years.
“This year, Lebanon is the fifth largest recipient of U.S. foreign military financing and Lebanon is also the fifth largest annual recipient of U.S. bilateral training for your military personnel.” he revealed last week
On the vacuum at the presidential position, Hale said: “There is no substitute for genuine political leadership from within Lebanon.
Hale said that his talks with Salam also focused on the outcome of the latest UN General Assembly in New York and the meetings of the International Support Group for Lebanon that “renewed its commitment to support Lebanon against all the challenges facing the country.”
Hale concluded his statement by saying:
“We hope to see determined action by Lebanon’s leaders to resolve the political stalemate through the election of a president without further delay, so the institutions of governance can respond to citizens’ needs and provide effective services.”
US lawmakers on Sept. 29 cemented Beirut’s status as a key ally with the release of a compromise annual defense bill that puts Lebanon on equal footing with longtime partner Jordan, according to a report by US news and World Report .
The free flow of aid and weapons represents a sea change from the situation five years ago, when the US Congress briefly held up all military aid following an incident in which Lebanese soldiers shot and killed an Israeli officer on the border. Hezbollah’s political dominance over the following three years caused further hand-wringing on Capitol Hill, but over the past few months Lebanon’s military has emerged as a trusted backstop against Islamist militants of all stripes.
“The mood in the US Congress is definitely much more positive than years ago regarding the security assistance to Lebanon,” said Dr. Joseph Gebeily, president of the Lebanese Information Center a Washington-based think tank. “There is an increased recognition by members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, that it is important for US interests in Lebanon and the region.”
Gebeily credits the increased professionalization of the armed services, the emergence of a compromise governing coalition last year and the Lebanese armed forces’ recent victories against IS. He said top Lebanese military commanders now regularly visit State Department and Defense Department officials in Washington, while US lawmakers in turn make it a habit to visit them during congressional delegations to Lebanon.
“If you look at the area,” Gebeily said, “the only place really where local security forces or armed forces were able to completely eradicate [IS] and consorts from their territory was in Lebanon.”
Over the past 12 months, the Pentagon has informed Congress about its intention to sell Lebanon $391 million in missiles, $180 million in helicopters and $462 million in Super Tucano turboprop attack aircraft. Congressional and administration sources say none of those sales have been blocked by Congress.
The aircraft sales would provide the Lebanese armed forces with close air support seen as crucial for strikes against IS militants along the border. Saudi Arabia is helping foot the bill through a $1 billion grant to Lebanon.