I recently had the opportunity to accompany the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ (PM) Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS) on a visit to monitor the progress of U.S.-funded security assistance programs in Lebanon. During our site visits, I witnessed the positive impact our investments are having on the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), our main bilateral security partners in Lebanon. I believe that the U.S. commitment to the bilateral security partnership with the LAF is an investment in Lebanon’s stability, security, and success.
Let me preface these observations by saying I am no expert on security assistance, Foreign Military Financing (FMF), or International Military Education and Training (IMET) funding. However, as a U.S. military officer with nearly 29 years of service, I do have experience in security cooperation. With the majority of my assignments overseas and several deployments to the Middle East, I have worked with partner militaries from the tactical to the strategic level for most of my career. Many of these partners are our staunchest NATO allies, well-trained and well-equipped. Others have been less so, and a few were just starting their transformation into a professional force responsible to their people and their civilian leadership.
It is through this lens that I viewed the LAF on our recent trip. The United States has invested a substantial amount of capital in the LAF, from “boots on the ground” to large sums of money and equipment. We also continue our robust support to the Lebanese people, both in humanitarian and development assistance, as well as security assistance to the LAF and the Internal Security Forces. In Fiscal Year 2021, we have provided the LAF with approximately $240 million in U.S. security assistance in support of training, equipment, and maintenance from the State Department and Department of Defense. The broad scope of our assistance speaks volumes to the LAF’s capacity to partner with us on complex and diverse security programs.
After my two days visiting with LAF leadership, a border security unit, and a Lebanese Air Force base, and viewing them through my lens of experience, I can sum up my observations in one word: “Impressed.” From the highest levels of leadership to the tactical units in the field, LAF military members lauded the quality of training they received in and from the United States. It was evident this training was incorporated across the entirety of their operations. As a career Airman, I was particularly impressed with their ability to integrate airpower into counterterrorism (CT) and border security operations, as well as their genuine concern and pride for taking great measures to prevent civilian casualties.
Also impressive were their measured asks for support. At all levels, it was clear that the country’s economic crisis has the potential to affect retention and the LAF’s ability to conduct operations. Most of the LAF’s requests were focused on basic needs or resources to purchase them. Their equipment-related requests were deliberate and focused on further developing their capabilities to address security threats and challenges. As an example, base leadership at a LAF air base presented a thought-out plan to systematically improve the airfield and its support facilities while adding additional aircraft to existing units. I found it refreshing these asks were not for expensive weapons systems unsuited to their mission sets or maintenance capacity. Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers were gainfully employed, and it was great to see gender diversity.
Our assistance to the LAF is a key pillar of U.S. support for stability in Lebanon.
In conclusion, I left Lebanon with an odd mix of satisfaction and worry. It was gratifying to see that our investment in the LAF is yielding tangible results for the Lebanese people. Against the backdrop of the severe crises the country faces, these smart investments in the LAF aim to strengthen Lebanon’s sovereignty, helping it protect its borders and provide internal security. Our assistance to the LAF is a key pillar of U.S. support for stability in Lebanon, and we continue to explore innovative mechanisms to address the challenges the LAF faces as a result of the economic crisis. I am a glass half-full kind of person, so I hope current partnership efforts with the LAF will carry them through these difficult times. From my perspective, the LAF is a U.S. security assistance success story, and I would very much like to see that story continue for a long time.
About the Author: Brig. Gen. Joseph D. McFall is the Senior Military Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.