BEIRUT: The head of the U.S. Central Command praised the strong military cooperation between Lebanon and the United States during a meeting over the weekend with Lebanese Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi.
“The generals discussed Lebanon and regional issues, with General [James] Mattis noting appreciation for the strong and sustained military cooperation between the two countries and emphasizing U.S. support for Lebanon’s initiatives to implement its obligations under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701,” A U.S. Embassy statement said Sunday.
U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 aimed to end hostilities in south Lebanon following the 2006 war between Lebanon and Israel.
Mattis stressed Central Command’s continuing effort to strengthen the capacity of the Lebanese Army, “recognizing its importance, as Lebanon’s sole legitimate defense force, in securing Lebanon’s borders and defending the sovereignty and independence of the state.”
Central Command is responsible for countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia.
The U.S. general also reiterated the United States’ commitment to a stable, sovereign and independent Lebanon.
According to the Lebanese Army’s website, Kahwagi and Mattis discussed bilateral ties between the countries and means of developing the U.S. assistance program to the Army, “as well as other subjects of joint interest.”
Earlier in the weekend, Kahwagi toured the northern city of Tripoli where he inspected military units that deployed there last month to end fierce clashes that left at least 17 dead.
Kahwagi stressed the need to preserve security and adopt strict measures to prosecute violators.
The Army commander inspected units in the rival neighborhoods of Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh.
He also visited wounded soldiers in Tripoli hospitals, commending them for their bravery and wishing them a speedy recovery.
During his visit, Kahwagi praised the soldiers’ efforts to restore order in the city, saying that achieving stability in Tripoli is the Army’s priority at this stage, given its importance for the entire country.
Last month’s clashes in Lebanon’s second-largest city erupted between gunmen in two rival districts: Sunni dominated Bab al-Tabbaneh, where residents largely back the Syrian uprising, and Alawite majority Jabal Mohsen, where support for Syrian President Bashar Assad abounds.
In response to the clashes, the city’s political and security figures agreed to a cease-fire and called for the redeployment of the Army, which in turn implemented a security plan to restore order in Tripoli.
Last week, troops detained 18 gunmen – later releasing 11 of them – and seized arms, ammunition and military hardware in the Al-Zahiriyeh neighborhood.