US Sending More Arms to Lebanon to Fight Militants

The U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon announced Thursday that the United States will soon supply the Lebanese military with additional weaponry to help “secure Lebanon’s borders, protect Lebanon’s people, and fight these violent extremist groups.”

The assistance comes after Lebanon requested emergency aid following deadly clashes earlier this month with Sunni militants in the eastern Arsal region of the country, on the Syrian border. In five days of fighting in early August, 19 Lebanese soldiers and more than 50 civilians were killed, with many more wounded; seven soldiers are still being held hostage by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and nine more are being held by Al-Nusra Front, a branch of Al Qaeda operating in Syria and Lebanon.

In addition, the battle forced thousands of women and children to flee, including Lebanese civilians and Syrian refugees seeking shelter from their own country’s civil war. The UN estimates that by the end of this year, there could be close to 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, which has long been the site of proxy wars in the Middle East.

Since 2006, the U.S. has provided more than $1 billion in military training and assistance to Lebanon’s armed forces, $120 million of that since October 2013.

Those numbers pale in comparison to what Saudi Arabia has pledged since December: $3 billion for weaponry as long as it’s purchased from France, plus an additional $1 billion in direct aid.

The ambassador’s announcement indicates willingness on the part of the U.S. to work with the Lebanese government despite the sizable influence, in both the military and political spheres, of Hezbollah, the Shiite Islamist militant group that the U.S. describes as a terrorist organization.

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An Inter Press Service article last week quoted Yezid Sayigh, senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, saying that in relation to the U.S. and its financial support for Lebanon, “there seems to have been a strategic decision to continue to cooperate with the Lebanese government, the Lebanese army, and other agencies even when Hezbollah is in a coalition government.”

Some speculate that Saudi Arabia’s motives for funding the Lebanese Armed Forces may be even more directly related to Hezbollah. In a column written last week, Al Arabiya journalist Abdulrahman al-Rashed offered context for Saudi Arabia’s gift, describing it as a “political act” meant to lend legitimacy to the Lebanese army in the face of Hezbollah’s stronger forces:

According to the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon, “U.S. military assistance will begin arriving in the next few weeks and continue in the months to follow.”

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