‘US to train, equip Lebanese forces’

DUBAI — Following the ceasefire in Lebanon, the United States is committed to the training and supply of equipment to the Lebanese army.

By Robert Flemming

Published: Sat 26 Aug 2006, 9:37 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 6:16 PM

In the light of the US supply of weaponry and munitions to Israel, this might appear to be something of a physical oxymoron.

Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, Deputy Commander for Strategy, Planning and Policy within US Central Command talked to Khaleej Times in Dubai giving the military, and sometimes a personal, view of the position in the regional field of operations.

Brigadier General Kimmitt stated that talks between the Lebanese and US governments had progressed following Syria’s exit and that some $10 million had been earmarked for that support.

In addition to training, this figure might also include provision for equipment, ordnance, spare parts and mobility assets as deemed necessary. His views on the status of Hezbollah were equally clear.

“The fight that Israel was conducting was against Hezbollah, a terrorist organisation inside of Lebanon who by UNSC Resolution 1559 was required to disarm. They have not done so at this point. When we provide arms, equipment and training to the Lebanese armed forces that is with an inter alia, given the capacity, to assist them in enforcing the provision of 1559 to include the disarmament of Hezbollah as necessary.”

“There are different sides of that cube called Hezbollah. You can’t dismiss the fact that Hezbollah involves itself in social and charity work but if you turn that cube you also have an organisation that is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Turn that cube again and it’s an organisation responsible for the killing of 243 marines in Beirut in 1982 and the bombing of Khobar Towers.”

“Turn the cube again and, although there may be some grassroots level support for it, there’s an organisation that thumbs its nose at the legitimately elected government of Lebanon. Which side of the cube should we believe?”

Speaking of the position in Afghanistan, the general said that the strength of the army and the national police was now up to 30,000 and 43,000 respectively.

However, an early withdrawal of troops is thought to be unlikely with a UN presence, inclusive of American troops, being needed in the country for some years to come.

In addition to the security situation reflected by escalating fighting between UN forces and the Taleban over the last six months, there is a continuing concern over the illegal trade in drugs. Afghanistan remains one of the largest heroin producers in the world.

Control of the latter situation does not fall within the mandate of foreign troops. On the other hand, the General did confirm that the hunt for Osama bin Laden continues on a daily basis.

“Over time we will get him,” said General Kimmitt. “Even if we were to kill Bin Laden tomorrow, the movement has built up enough momentum to sustain itself for a period of time. But he does have iconic status so it’s important from a tactical stance that we continue this hunt every day.”

In Iraq, he said, “We’re still there because we have a job to do.”

Operation Together Forward is an attempt to quell the wave of violence that escalated after the recent bombing in Samara. Additional US personnel have been brought in to support Iraqi forces and assist in clearing insurgents.

In rejection of Press reports that morale among US soldiers was low, Brigadier General Kimmitt commented: “What the Press says doesn’t square with the truth. Morale is a result of two things. They have a clear and focused mission in which there’s little ambiguity. And the second factor that promotes high morale is that they know that they have the support of their friends and family back home. When I was back in the States I never heard anything bad about the troops. People say: love the troops — hate the war and the policy. Every single soldier knows the quality of leadership in his or her own unit and they know why they’re there. The average trooper’s morale is high.”

He also rejected accusations that soldiers were trigger happy. In his view and those of other experts, shooting a weapon should be the last resort in counter insurgency.

“We tell our soldiers to be alert, to stay focused and not to be complacent. For most troops it’s a relatively passive situation. American soldiers are getting injured by roadside bombs and to a much lesser extent in small conflicts. If there’s a threat to you or your unit, you have to take action but that doesn’t give you the licence to operate outside the rules of engagement.”

The general also added that the US and the coalition forces had a lot to learn about the parallel conflict fought in the media. In the race to win hearts and minds, he indicated that a large part of the challenge was to expose the ‘enemy’ to the people.

“You’re not just fighting a war,” he said, “you’re fighting an ideology.”

Finally coming to the subject of Iran, Brigadier General Kimmitt refused to be drawn on the ground that any comment would be purely speculative.

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