BEIRUT: Two shipments of rocket launchers and assault rifles delivered by the United States to the Lebanese Army this week will be followed by unspecified heavy weaponry, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale pledged at a ceremony Friday.
The 1,500 M16s, more than 450 anti-tank guided missiles and 60 mortars delivered by the U.S. military Thursday and Friday are worth nearly $9 million, an embassy source told The Daily Star.
In total, around $11 million in military aid, including unspecified heavy weapons, will be delivered to the Army by “early September,” with the next shipment scheduled to arrive in a matter of days.
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, the embassy source added.
The weapons 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.”
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 urgently 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 [Army Commander] Gen. [Jean] Kahwagi and asked what America could do to help,” Hale said from behind a podium flanked by two 81mm mortars.
“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 in recent times, 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,” he added.
After the ceremony, Hale and Kirejian took stock of the weapons, a selection of which were on proud display. Under the punishing sun, drops of condensation gathered on the new rocket launchers, still wrapped in protective plastic.
With a deafening roar, a U.S. Air Force jet touched down with the second arms shipment. “This aircraft is full, chock-full!” said a U.S. defense official as the jaw of the plane’s cargo hold lowered slowly onto the tarmac.