LAF – A Great Investment for the US

Wednesday, July 7, 2021
Opinion by Jean AbiNader

At a time when people are questioning what US interests were secured for the $820+ billion spent in military costs in Afghanistan, not counting deaths, casualties, and PTSD after effects, there are still those on the Hill and in think tanks who challenge the $2+ billion the US has spent in support of the LAF since 2010. The Taliban will soon overrun what little resistance the Afghan government can stand up; while in Lebanon, the LAF has demonstrated time and again that they are among the most well-prepared and disciplined forces in the region.

With the one year anniversary of the Beirut Port explosions nearing, the LAF is once again demonstrating its intention to continue to support Lebanon’s sovereignty, despite the negligence of its political leadership. And their integrity is drawing positive responses and support for the troops and their families from countries as diverse as France, Qatar, China, and Egypt. From foodstuffs to vehicles and fuel, the LAF is hoping that these last minute infusions of support will enable it to maintain readiness and operational capability in the growing uncertainty.

With caretaker Prime Minister Diab warning that Lebanon is “days away” from an “impending social explosion,” the LAF is even more challenged to take actions that both prevent chaos and protect the rights of the protestors – a very tough proposition. In the meantime, the LAF is hosting the US Central Command in cooperation with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency to assess the sea and land border capabilities. Since the LAF oversees both the navy and the army, this will be an extensive review, taking two weeks of site visits, discussions, exercises, and planning. It could not be more timely.

A recent news story in the Washington Post examined the difficulties faced in blocking smuggling along the eastern and northern borders with Syria. Many goods until now, including fuel, are subsidized in Lebanon. Smugglers buy them at the lower prices and transport their valuable cargo to Syria through the porous and often un-demarcated border where trails are hard to detect and easy to shift. Even though the UK and US have supported building a series of observation posts along the eastern border, command of the terrain and ability to respond quickly is undermined by limited supplies of food and the availability of troops.

Given the extensive economic paralysis of Syria’s economy, it is no wonder that Syrians are desperate for Lebanese goods although the bulk of the smuggling is controlled by cartels that sell the good across Africa and the Gulf. Gasoline, however, is in high demand in Syria, as it is in Lebanon, and is a very lucrative trade on both sides of the border. There was even a video circulating where newlyweds received a large jug of gasoline as a wedding present.

The LAF has also responded to the civil unrest at gas stations where gunfire and fist fights are occurring with greater frequency. Extensive media coverage these past few weeks have shown lines of six or more hours to get only a third of a tank, bringing whatever economic activity is left to a standstill. Many stations have closed and there have been fatalities as an outcome of the lack of fuel. And it’s just not cars.

In Tripoli, the situation is most dire and unsettled as homeowners cannot afford diesel fuel for their generators to power their homes. Twice in the past two weeks, the LAF has donated fuel to homeowners in the poorest neighborhoods and Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) Commander General Joseph Aoun visited Tripoli to show solidarity with its people. “Your pain is our pain,” he said and warned of serious repercussions to anyone who harms the city’s security.

So to those who would punish the LAF for the spinelessness of the political leadership, I recommend that they take their complaints elsewhere. Then contemplate what would happen without the LAF…Syrian and Lebanese refugees fleeing to Europe, the likelihood of the Syrian civil war engulfing Lebanon, the resurrection of ISIS and al Qaeda, and other consequences that make the Taliban in Afghanistan a remote and diminished threat.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon.