Special Operations Command (Forward) - Lebanon (SOC [FWD] LEB)
Special Operations Command (Forward) - Lebanon (SOC [FWD] LEB), under the operational control of Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT) partners with the Lebanese Special Operations Forces to conduct multiple civil-military projects around the country, enhancing the relationships between the US Government, the Lebanese Military, and the populace.
SOC (FWD) LEB's mission is to shape and coordinate special-operations forces security cooperation and engagement in support of theater special-operations command, geographic combatant command, and country team goals and objectives. The SOC (FWD) LEB commander also exercises tactical control of deployed special operations forces in the respective country for the theater special operations command (TSOC) commander, who has operational control. SOC (FWD) LEB also serves as the TSOC commander's eyes and ears in country to ensure that the special operations forces engagement strategy adapts to exploit opportunities in a dynamic 21st century geo-political and threat environment. To perform these functions, SOC (FWD) LEB must develop a close working relationship with members of the Department of State country team, the TSOC staff, and partner-nation armed forces.
In the summer of 2006, the 34-day war between Hezbollah paramilitary forces in southern Lebanon and the Israeli military was terminated by UN Security Council Resolution 1701, calling for withdrawal of Israel from Lebanon and a commitment from the Government of Lebanon to extend its authority over its territory through its legitimate armed forces with assistance from an enlarged UN Interim Force (UNIFIL) in Lebanon. Since the 2006 war, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) deployed 3 brigades to take control of Southern Lebanon and enforce the provisions of UNSCR 1701 with the assistance of UNIFIL. In addition, US security-assistance helped the LAF to improve its overall professionalism and capabilities. Despite these efforts, the LAF continued to suffer from significant capability shortfalls. Following the 2007 "Nahr Al Bared" Palestinian camp conflict, US support to the Lebanese Special Forces units led by SOCCENT through its persistent SOC (FWD) LEB component and episodic joint-combined exercise training and counterterrorism engagements, greatly improved these units' ability to counter terrorists and other sources of instability within Lebanon.
Over time, the need to bolster support for UNSCR 1701 became increasingly apparent. To achieve the goals of the UNSCR, a plan was devised to create training teams from the ranks of each of the Lebanese special operations forcse (LSOF) brigades with the mission of providing training focused on improving the conventional LAF brigades stationed in the south. These Lebanese Training Teams (LTT) would work with the Lebanese Special Forces School and the LAF G3 for training and doctrine to ensure the commands providing the LTTs and the commands receiving their training understand the importance of this task. Implementation of this plan would occur in 2 phases: create and train the LTTs and advise and assist them in their mission.
During October and November 2011, Operational Detachment Alphas 5321, 5324, and 5325 of the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), and a SEAL platoon conducted JCETs with the LSOF brigades. Each of the detachments was tasked to work with their partner force’s leadership to identify soldiers with the skill, talent, experience and ability required to be an instructor. Each LSOF brigade was to provide 12 soldiers, 2 officers and 10 noncommissioned officers, to fill the role of the LTT. It was key during this time to gain the support of the LSOF commanders. Without LAF command support, the LTTs would never receive the caliber of personnel needed to effectively conduct this mission. Otherwise it would have been a difficult proposition to get unit commanders to give up talent personnel for the training mission. General Jean Kahwaji, commander of the LAF, understood the frustrations shared by the LSOF commanders, but conveyed to them the importance of utilizing the talents and strengths of the LSOF to increase the capacities of the LAF overall and by December 2011 the LTT personnel had been identified.
Advanced Operational Base (AOB) 5310 from the 5th Special Forces Group arrived at the Lebanese Special Forces School in January 2012 with the mission of training the personnel selected to fill the ranks of the LTTs. The program of instruction was based on the instructor training course taught at JFK Special Warfare Center and School. It focused on creating instructors, the POI utilized small-unit tactics as the vehicle to demonstrate the various methods of instruction to the students and evaluate the students’ abilities to both conduct the tasks at hand and teach those tasks to others. Another goal of the AOB was to ensure the LTTs departed the Special Forces School with their own LAF-approved POI designed specifically for the training of the LAF conventional brigades in the south.
As of early 2012, the advise and assist portion of the LTT plan was to begin in April 2012. Members of the Army's Asymmetric Warfare Group would deploy into the Litani Sector of South Lebanon to advise and assist the LTTs in their training of the conventional brigades deployed in support of UNSCR 1701. Each LTT would split into 2 components of one officer and 5 NCOs. These LTTs would then provide a 10-day POI to a single platoon of their assigned conventional brigade. This would then be repeated with the other half of the LTT and a new platoon. With this rotation, the LTTs would train a total of 6 Lebanese platoons each month providing the conventional brigades with improved skills in a critical sector of the region.
Civil Affairs Team 644 (CAT 644) from SOCCENT's Theater Civil Military Support Element worked to partner civil affairs forces with host nation militaries in the Levant region during its rotation from July 2011 to March 2012. CAT 644 divided its time between the Lebanese Armed Forces and Jordanian Armed Forces, increasing the US Government's relationship with those nations and their respective militaries. In Lebanon, these operations were conducted in support of Special Operations Command (Forward) - Lebanon. One of the first projects completed in support of the Lebanese Special Operations Forces's civil-military program was the Hamat Community Center. Additionally, CAT 644 leveraged the diverse experience of SOCCENT's Civil Affairs Engineer to plan future Humanitarian Assistance projects around Lebanon. Utilizing the Civil Engineer's extensive background working on construction projects throughout the US Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility, CAT 644 team partnered with the US Agency for International Development's (USAID) Office of Democracy, Governance, and Education to conduct surveys of public schools and clinics that were in need of external support. Based on the extensive research and analysis conducted by USAID's Developing Rehabilitation Assistance to Schools and Teacher Improvement (D-RASATI) education program in Lebanon, CAT 644 helped identify schools that needed assistance, but were out of USAID's immediate reach. While CAT 644's Lebanese Special Operations Forces partners provided extra security in higher-risk areas, the Team was able to lay the groundwork for future assistance programs that reached common goals of CENTCOM, USAID, the Lebanese Armed Forces, and the Lebanese Ministry of Education.
Following the advent of a pro-Hezbollah "March 8" coalition government in the summer of 2011, US security cooperation with the LAF had been under review by policymakers and plans were underway as of mid-2012 to adapt US security assistance toward the LAF's implementation of UNSCR 1701 and controlling of Lebanon's borders. As of mid-2012, SOC (FWD) LEB was a 3-man command and control node, relying on reach-back staff and logistical support from the TSOC. The Special Operations Command Central J33-Levant Operational Planning Team, for example, conducted planning, programming, and coordinating support for SOC (FWD) LEB. Although not formally a country team member under chief-of-mission authority, the SOC (FWD) LEB commander, rated O6, was afforded a seat at the invitation of the US Ambassador at weekly country-team meetings and other country team director-level venues. Therefore, through placement of this O6 rated officer, the TSOC commander had been able to gain, in practice, a seat on the country team.
While the strategy devised by SOCCENT and SOC (FWD) LEB for US special operations forces engagement in Lebanon focused on the counterterrorism line of effort with LSOF units, a second line of effort was being developed as of mid-2012 to leverage LSOF trainers to improve the LAF's ability to implement UNSCR 1701. This line of effort involved US special operations forces assistance to the Lebanese Special Forces School to develop professional LSOF trainers who would be deployed as mobile training teams to train other LAF units, especially in Southern Lebanon. In addition, Civil Affairs and Military Information Support efforts coordinated by the civil-military support element and Military Information Support teams would be utilized to bolster the LAF’s predominance throughout Lebanon.
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