BEIRUT: The United States is expected to give at least $60 million more in military aid to Lebanon this year than it did in 2018. “Support to the Lebanese Army will continue, and it is anticipated that at least an additional $60,000,000 more than [in] 2018 will be granted,” an official U.S. document obtained by The Daily Star states.
Although the U.S. government shutdown is delaying the release of official funding figures, the document shows that in 2018 the country’s foreign military financing budget for Lebanon was close to $291 million. This included the budget for international military education and training, valued at $2.75 million, and $8 million that went to non-proliferation, anti-terrorism and demining.
Funds for international narcotics control and law enforcement were valued at close to $10 million, while an Economic Support Fund was estimated at $115 million.
These numbers “do not reflect other aid clusters such as regional and refugees’ assistance,” the document notes.
A diplomatic source close to the issue told The Daily Star that the final value of U.S. military aid had not yet been determined. “The assistance packages are very complicated and they don’t all appear at first in the appropriations. They get added as the year progresses from various funding sources. But it’s true that it will be at least $60 million more in 2019,” the source said.
Another source also confirmed that the United States would provide at least $60 million more in military aid this year.
Pentagon spokeswoman Commander Rebecca Rebarich told The Daily Star in an email: “The Department of Defense plans Sec 333 security cooperation - including the assistance in question - well in advance according to our plans to strengthen the capabilities of key partners in the region.
“Strengthening the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) advances a range of U.S. interests in the Middle East that includes not only countering the spread of violent extremisms but also stemming the influence of Iran and Hezbollah.” Since 2006, the Army has received more than $1.7 billion in military aid from the U.S.
A 2018 fact sheet from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs stated that this investment “has paid significant dividends for U.S. interests in the Middle East.”
“In Lebanon, the LAF continues to successfully coordinate with the U.S. government to ensure compliance with all its security requirements and remains a valued partner in the fight against ISIS [Daesh] and other violent extremists,” the sheet added.
In February, Gen. Joseph Votel, who heads U.S. Central Command, confirmed that U.S. Army Special Forces were working closely with the Lebanese Army inside Lebanon.
Votel arrived in Beirut Monday and met with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri. A statement from the U.S. Embassy said the two discussed “the strong U.S.-Lebanese relationship, as well as the United States’ government’s commitment to a secure and prosperous future for Lebanon.”
Hariri’s office said the premier-designate “discussed with [Votel] the situation and the U.S. military assistance to the Lebanese Army and Internal Security forces.”
The Army received A-29 Super Tucano aircraft from the U.S. last year, as well as M2A2 Bradley fighting vehicles and is expected to receive MD 530G light attack helicopters and ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicles.
Lebanese officials will certainly welcome the news amid mounting pressure from a number of lobbyists and lawmakers for the U.S. government to halt aid to the country. A political source on Capitol Hill previously told The Daily Star that U.S. Congress was more “resolute than ever about drawing a red line with Iran.” Consequently, Hezbollah’s armed presence in Lebanon is a point of concern for Washington.
But just last week, a senior U.S. envoy reaffirmed his country’s support to the Army during a trip to Lebanon.
“The U.S. is committed to working with Lebanon’s people and legitimate state institutions, including the Lebanese Armed Forces and Internal Security Forces, to address mutual challenges. We support the LAF and ISF’s efforts to secure Lebanon’s borders, ensure Lebanese state sovereignty and maintain Lebanon’s internal security,” U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale said after meeting Hariri.