BEIRUT: Friday’s shipment of rocket launchers and assault rifles from the United States to the Lebanese Army will be followed by unspecified heavy weaponry, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale pledged at a ceremony.
The 1,500 M16s and more than 450 anti-tank rocket launchers delivered by the U.S. military this week have been financed by American tax dollars, Hale said in a speech made at Rafik Hariri International Airport.
“This weaponry and ordnance is paid for by the American people,” he said. "Over the coming weeks, more ammunition and more heavy weaponry will be delivered from the United States to the Army."
Future shipments of heavy weapons, which have not yet been detailed publically, will also be underwritten by the United States, an embassy source confirmed.
Additional weaponry will be delivered by the U.S. army as part of the $1 billion Saudi grant coordinated by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
While the U.S. has donated more than a billion dollars in aid to the Lebanese Army over the last decade, most previous donations have been nonlethal equipment, including armored personnel carriers, light aircraft and communication systems.
After clashes between the Army and fighters from the Nusra Front and ISIS erupted in the border region of Arsal earlier this month, Lebanon said it needed offensive and defensive equipment to face battle-hardened fighters from Syria.
“On Aug. 2, extremists attacked in Arsal. On Aug. 3, I met with Gen. [Jean] Kahwagi and asked what America could do to help,” Hale said Friday's ceremony. “We moved to supply the Army with the weapons and ammunition it asked for and that it needs to secure Lebanon’s borders and defeat these extremist groups that threaten Lebanon’s security.”
Lebanese Brig. Gen. Manuel Kirejian said that the battles in Arsal had been “the most dangerous encounter” with terrorists in Lebanon recently, and that the militants “are scheming to set the fire of sectarian strife throughout our country."
“We consider the United States’ constant support to the Army in the form of weapons and equipment, as well as the support granted by Arab [states]... a clear and unmistakable commitment to boost the Army’s capabilities,” Kirejian said.
“Long live the Lebanese-American friendship.”