I know you’re all probably bored stiff with the discussion about US military funding to the Lebanese Army, but I couldn’t pass this one up.
The following commentary was sent to me by a former official who has intimate firsthand knowledge of US-Lebanese military affairs. It is published here at QN with their permission.
I’ve been reading the discussion on your blog regarding US assistance to the LAF. As one of the only people from the Pentagon or State Department intimately involved in designing and operationalizing this effort who has left government, I would like to share some thoughts on this program.
I was one of the point people for countless briefings on this effort both within the Executive branch and before Congress. The initial security assistance package delivered after the war (primarily spare parts and ammunition) was for strengthening Lebanese sovereignty, as were all other elements of our effort to build the LAF. This was the key argument made for the assistance; not diminishing Hizballah’s operating space.
One criticism made in the discussion is that the U.S. should be building the LAF to fight the IDF. I’m perplexed as to why the U.S. should do so. Lebanon’s challenge, which it has faced from time immemorial, is the destabilizing impact of various domestic groups (many, if not all, fostered by external actors). Only when the Lebanese government can exert its sovereignty throughout Lebanese territory will Lebanon have a chance at achieving stability. Doing so will diminish the ability of outside parties to meddle in Lebanese affairs. This is what the aid program is intended to accomplish.
Building the LAF (or any partner state military, for that matter) does not mean nor should it ever mean “total, unrestricted support,” as some have asserted. This argument illustrates a shortsighted understanding of how to build a military. The LAF’s two biggest needs when the U.S. began the program to rapidly train and equip it were. . .mobility and ammunition. Yes, not very enticing, but these requirements were painfully clear to anyone who examined the LAF. In 2005, LAF troops did not have the ability to move deftly around the country. They averaged 3-5 bullets per soldier, per year (including training). In building the LAF, the U.S. has focused on addressing its urgent needs first. For this, the U.S. should be applauded. Furthermore, despite a painfully slow and outdated security assistance program, substantial aid has been delivered to Lebanon since 2006, yet another example of how high this effort has been on Washington’s priority list. One critical aspect of the U.S. program to rapidly build the LAF is its strategic-level focus. The establishment of the Joint Military Committee (JMC), a senior-level annual defense dialogue that the Pentagon leadership holds only with close allies, is one important example. This forum helps ensure both parties are on the same page, and it serves as an important avenue in facilitating discussion on issues like defense strategy.
A modernized, strengthened LAF would involve quite a few of the elements that Emile raises (which are, one should note, found in many of today’s militaries, not simply in Hizballah). However, the notion that Hizballah will support such an effort seems rather farcical. At the end of the day, a stronger, more willing LAF is inevitably a competitor to Hizballah, not a compatriot.
The notion that the U.S. and Lebanon have vastly differing visions of how to best rapidly build the LAF is actually rather inaccurate. Since this effort began, a sustained dialogue at various levels has enabled the parties to come to a similar understanding of the LAF’s needs, and how the U.S. would fulfill them. It is rare that one hears requests for F-16s or the like from LAF members. In fact, the Lebanese government’s decision to accept MiGs from Russia was rued throughout the LAF and by many political figures as well; at all levels, they understood that these planes were not helpful in fulfilling the LAF’s mandate.
Finally, I do believe this talk of LAF complaints is a bit overplayed. All militaries want security assistance in-country yesterday. A bit of frustration is inevitable, as we see in other cases (e.g., Iraq; Afghanistan; Pakistan). That said, the U.S. could have launched its effort to build the LAF earlier than it did; the first tranche of tangible assistance didn’t come through until the second half of 2006. Our system is what it is; the Founding Fathers designed it to impede, rather than to foster, action. So be it. Turn to the Iranians if one would prefer greater speed.
I should add that those interested in examining the current effort would do well to study the 1982-1984 period. That represented the first time the U.S. tried to rapidly build the LAF (under a program known as the Lebanese Army Modernization Program—LAMP), and it suffered from a host of problems. The U.S. has learned much since the LAMP transpired, including the significance of context, continuous reassessment, and appropriate distribution of materiel.