BEIRUT: The Cabinet Thursday agreed to recruit a little over 11,000 personnel for the Lebanese Army and other security forces to boost the capabilities of security agencies, in light of recent clashes between the military and jihadists from Syria.
“The Cabinet agreed to amend a previous Cabinet decision and raise the number of recruits to 4,000 for the Internal Security Forces, 500 for State Security, 500 second-degree inspectors and 500 personnel for General Security,” Information Minister Ramzi Joreige told reporters after the end of the morning Cabinet session.
Ministers also agreed "to recruit 5,000 soldiers for the Army as well as 369 student officers and 200 soldiers," Joreige said.
Cabinet members were joined by Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi, head of the ISF Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous, head of Army Intelligence Maj. Gen. Edmond Fadel, and head of the ISF Information Branch Col. Imad Othman.
According to Joreige, Kahwagi informed the Cabinet about the ground developments and the humanitarian situation in Arsal. He also briefed the Cabinet on Army measures to defeat the militants and restore security to the town.
Kahwagi told ministers that the militants completely withdrew from the border town, Joreige said.
“The Army’s in a very good situation,” Kahwagi told reporters before the Cabinet meeting.
Kahwagi confirmed that Arsal was now free of militants after jihadists loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria retreated toward the Syria border Thursday morning.
On his way out of the Grand Serail, Kahwagi said that the Lebanese captives have been taken out of Arsal by the militants.
"The captured soldiers were removed from Arsal from the onset of the battles," Kahwagi said.
A total of 38 members of security forces - 22 Lebanese soldiers and 16 policemen - were taken captive by militants who overran Arsal Saturday following the arrest of a Syrian rebel commander by the Lebanese Army.
Conflicting reports emerged Thursday as to the number of security men in captivity. Ministerial sources told The Daily Star the missing included 16 Lebanese soldiers and 18 policemen. The Committee of Muslim Scholars says 10 soldiers and 17 ISF members were held by the jihadists.
The militants withdrew from Arsal Thursday morning, after a cease-fire agreement paved their way to retreat from the northeast border town.
At the start of the session, Salam praised the way Lebanese supported their Army in its "honorable battle in defense of Lebanese sovereignty."
"The stance of the political class, as demonstrated by the Cabinet, is fully supportive of the armed forces and opposes leniency when it comes to violating sovereignty," Joreige quoted Salam as saying.
Salam also briefed Cabinet members on his contacts with officials in sisterly and friendly states to secure needed equipment for the Army and security forces.
"Salam said that after the end of the battle in Arsal, [Cabinet] should evaluate the humanitarian conditions and the refugee camps in the town and have a calm, serous, dialogue about the security and political circumstances of the incident,” Joreige said.