Sunday, February 24, 2013

'The US hoping that $75 millions could make the Lebanese Army a "credible alternative" to Hezbollah'

 'Arsal (North Bekaa) residents commandeering a military vehicle, hit during clashes between gunmen allied with the Free Syrian Army and the LAF in which two soldiers were killed in Arsal
 (Photo: AFP - STR)
"...The United States considers the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) as a wise investment that can preserve American influence and perhaps help Lebanon to prevent the Syrian civil war from spreading into a country that experienced its own prolonged sectarian conflict from 1975-89.
“The LAF can be a model of what can work,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East Matthew Spence told a Washington audience Wednesday [Feb. 20].
While U.S. support for the LAF is comparatively modest — $75 million a year — it provides training as well as weapons and is an important element to “underscore the US partnership” with Lebanon, Spence said......
The war in Syria has also reignited sectarian tensions, particularly in the impoverished and predominantly Sunni north. There have been deadly incidents between Alawis and Sunnis in Tripoli that required deft handling by the LAF to defuse....
Spence, speaking at the Aspen Institute, noted that the Free Syrian Army, an opposition group, has threatened to cross the border into Lebanon to attack Hezbollah.
Spence suggested that Hezbollah’s support for Assad was hurting its popularity in Lebanon and providing an opportunity for the LAF to be seen by Lebanese as a “credible alternative” to the Shiite group.
While Hezbollah remains overwhelmingly dominant, Spence’s argument may be useful mostly in convincing a stingy U.S. Congress to maintain aid to the LAF especially at a time when automatic budget cuts due to go into effect March 1 will harshly impact overall U.S. military spending.....
The LAF has had to use its limited power carefully and has acted as a kind of fire brigade, deploying special forces and 11 mechanized brigades to prevent minor incidents from escalating.
Nerguizian warned, however, that pockets of the country — especially the North Bekaa area bordering Syria — were becoming “ungoverned spaces.” ..."

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