Lebanon receives US weapons shipment worth $25 million

Published February 9th, 2015 - 07:58 GMT

The Lebanese army received a shipment of US weapons, an embassy official told AFP on Sunday, to help in the fight against jihadists who have staged incursions from Syria.

"The Lebanese military received 72 M198 power supply (howitzers), and more than 25 million rounds of artillery, mortar and rifle ammunition," the official said on condition of anonymity.

An AFP photographer at the Beirut port also saw several Humvees, howitzers, ammunition containers and other military vehicles arriving.

In a statement, the US embassy said the aid is worth $25 million, adding that the 26 million rounds of ammunition included small, medium and heavy artillery rounds.

"Support for the (Lebanese military) remains a top priority for the United States. Recent attacks against Lebanon's army only strengthen America's resolve to stand in solidarity with the people of Lebanon to confront these threats," said the embassy.

It added: "The United States is providing top of the line weapons to the (Lebanese army) to help Lebanon's brave soldiers in their confrontation with the terrorists."

In 2014, Lebanon was the fifth largest recipient of US foreign military aid, the embassy said.

"In 2014 alone, the United States provided over $100 million to the (Lebanese military), adding to the $1 billion in assistance provided... since 2006," said the statement.

In September, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council announced that Iran will offer equipment to the Lebanese army to bolster its battle against jihadists.

However, the United States sent a stern warning to Lebanese officials immediately after the announcement of an Iranian aid to the Lebanese army.

A source told Al-Akhbar in November that the US government had threatened, directly and indirectly, to withhold all aid from the Lebanese army and to stop security cooperation if Lebanon breaches the sanctions against Iran and accepts the Iranian grant.

In exchange for the continuous support of the US, Lebanon should commit to the US sanctions imposed on Iran which include not accepting any arms donations.

The last time the US objected to a donation to the Lebanese army was a few years ago when former Minister of Defense Elias Murr and the March 14 alliance blocked a donation from the Russian government.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia announced in 2013 it would give the Lebanese army $3 billion (2.4 billion euros) to purchase weapons and equipment from France, but that deal has yet to be fully implemented.

In August, the kingdom offered another $1 billion in funds to allow the army to purchase supplies immediately.

The war raging in Syria, which in nearly four years has killed more than 210,000 people, has had a major security, economic and humanitarian impact on Lebanon.

In recent months, Lebanon's army has fought several battles against jihadists streaming in from across the restive border with Syria.

The deadliest battle took place last August in the border town of Ersal with jihadists of Daesh [ISIS] and al-Qaeda’s Syria branch, al-Nusra Front.

The Ersal violence left 16 soldiers dead and 85 wounded, while dozens of jihadists are said to have been killed, along with three civilians.

Islamist militants withdrew from the town to its outskirts, taking with them 25 captive Lebanese soldiers and policemen, four of whom they have since executed.

In October, Lebanese troops fought deadly clashes with Daesh and Nusra jihadists in the northern city of Tripoli.

The fighting left 42 people dead, including 11 soldiers and eight civilians.

Daesh has captured large swathes of land in Iraq and Syria, declaring what it calls a cross-border Islamic ‘caliphate,’ killing thousands and displacing millions in the two countries.

The United States, backed by some Western and Arab allies, launched airstrikes against the group in Iraq in August, expanding operations to targets in Syria a month later.

However, the air campaign, which Washington says aims to degrade Daesh's military capability, remains the subject of debate, with critics pointing to Daesh's advances and battlefield successes despite the raids.

The anti-Daesh campaign has cost the Iraqi government more than $260 million, and the total cost of operations related to Daesh in Iraq and Syria reached $1.3 billion as of January 9. The average daily cost of US-led anti-Daesh coalition efforts is $8.3 million according to the Department of Defense’s website, or more than $330,000 an hour.

Critics opposing US-led anti-Daesh campaign have pointed out that Washington in partnership with its Gulf allies, especially Saudi Arabia, played a role in the formation and expansion of extremist groups like Daesh by arming, financing and politically empowering rebels in Syria and Libya. Moreover, neighboring countries, namely Jordan and Turkey, have been accused of turning a blind eye on jihadists’ free movement on its borders with Iraq and Syria.

© Al-Akhbar. All rights reserved

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