BEIRUT: Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi has defended himself and his troops against criticism directed at the military institution following the Arsal battle, saying he would never trade the lives of Lebanese in exchange for political gains.
“They attacked me personally although I have repeated that I will never sacrifice a drop of blood of a soldier or a civilian to reach the presidency if I ever had the chance to reach the post,” Kahwagi told An-Nahar in remarks published Saturday.
“I had originally warned against the problem in Arsal many times before the conflict [began and] turned into a real battle, which prompted us to deploy three additional brigades including two military elite units.”
At the beginning of the Arsal clashes, lawmakers from the Future bloc had accused Kahwagi, seen as a favorable presidential candidate, of seeking to become a president at the expense of people in Arsal, the northeastern region bordering Syria. But the head of the Future Movement, Saad Hariri, voiced his party’s undying support for the Army to “liberate” Arsal from militants.
On Aug. 2 following the Army’s arrest of Imad Jomaa, the head of an ISIS brigade, militants from Syria attacked several Army and police posts in Arsal and engaged in five days of clashes with the military that ended with a cease-fire.
Kahwagi hit back at the military’s critics who scorned the Army for taking too long to end the battle, saying he spared the lives of Arsal residents and Syrian refugees by refraining from striking Arsal.
"There are 120,000 people, residents and Syria refugees, in Arsal. Did they want me to destroy Arsal and kill Lebanese and refugees?” Kahwagi said.
“We are ready for anything and our front is solid. I say to everyone that the region crumbling and nobody knows where we are going. Enough with the distractions and shame on them for politicizing a military issue.”
The commander said 190 brigades from Syrian militants took part in the organized attack "but the Army was decisive, so stop ridiculing the battle because if we did not succeed the results would have been horrifying for Lebanon.”
“The story is bigger and more dangerous than that and proof of that is what [British Prime Minister David] Cameron said about the threat of ISIS on Britain itself.”
Kahwagi then detailed the first hours after the arrest of Jomaa, whose detention triggered the fighting that killed 19 soldiers and dozens of militants.
“We arrested Imad Jomaa at an Army checkpoint; he had two other people with him. Imad Jomaa confessed during the documented investigation that he planned this scheme in details.”
“I arrived at the central command room and the information from soldiers started coming in about consequent attacks by militants from so many areas. We told those who came to us [to resolve the case] that we would not release Jomaa.”
He said militants were able to take over the strategic hill of Al-Hosn after a fierce battle with the unit stationed there that wounded a soldier, adding that the military launched several counter attacks and succeeded in regaining control over many posts.
“The battle witnessed many heroic acts by the soldiers and we also used air force."
“Where was the mistake then? In the central command room where all the top officers were gathered?”
“If they want to form a committee then they should go ahead and do that. I am ready for the file that would show me shortcomings.”