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Lebanese Ground Forces - History

The Army, like society as a whole, was a delicate balance of confessional representations. The Commander must be a Maronite Christian, the Chief of Staff a Druze, and so on. The 1975 pre-civil war officer corps contained 58 percent Christian Maronites — a mild improvement from the 64 percent a decade earlier. The Maronites, a small Catholic sect mostly residing in Lebanon, were at the forefront of Lebanese independence from Syria in 1943 and constituted the young state’s prime supporters, as opposed to the Sunni, who favored a pan-Arab construct. By contrast, approximately 60 percent of the rank and file were traditionally Shi’a. An apocryphal but revealing joke used to be told of a Lebanese company fighting Israel in 1948 and refusing to move on the grounds that, since four Maronites had been wounded, it was now essential that three Sunnis, two Shi'as, and so forth also be wounded.

Many military units became personal fiefdoms for local commanders, and corruption was rampant. With the outbreak of the civil war in 1975, many Army units simply faded away, men and arms going into one or another militia. Some commanders, such as Israel's ally Maj. Sa'd Haddad, deserted the Army to start their own forces. The Army became a joke, exercising no power except a certain ceremonial guard duty around the Presidéntial Palace and its own headquarters.

The weaknesses and inadequacies of the Lebanese Ground Forces were very visible at the start of the civil war in 1975. The fuse that ignited the Civil War was finally lit in February 1975 when the Lebanese Communist Party and other leftists organized violent demonstrations in Sidon on behalf of fishermen who were threatened economically by a state-monopoly fishing company. The Lebanese Army was called in to restore order, but, in the volatile atmosphere, armed clashes erupted. Muslim politicians protested that the use of the army was a violation of the demonstrators' democratic liberties and asked why the army was shooting at civilians rather than defending Lebanon's borders against Israeli incursions.

Sunni leaders also faulted the channels used for ordering the army into action. General Ghanim had assumed charge of the army's conduct and reported directly to President Franjiyah, ignoring Sunni Muslim Prime Minister Rashid as Sulh. Meanwhile, thousands of students in mainly Christian East Beirut demonstrated in support of the army. These serious splits were exacerbated when Maruf Saad, a Sunni populist leader, died in March of wounds suffered during the Sidon clashes. Long-standing concerns that the army would disintegrate if it were called into action were vindicated when intense fighting broke out between Maronite and Muslim army recruits.

During the first months of intermittent combat between Muslims and Christians, Franjiyah refused to commit ground forces to separate the combatants. However, he took the unorthodox and unprecedented step of appointing a military cabinet. Muslim Brigadier Nur ad Din Rifai, retired commander of the Internal Security Force, was named prime minister. Rifai selected the controversial Ghanim as his minister of defense; all other cabinet ministers except one were also military officers. Franjiyah's motives were difficult to discern. Some believed his move was part of a plot to cement Maronite dominance of the government. Others believed he was attempting to force the recalcitrant army to intervene in the fighting. Perhaps Franjiyah sincerely thought that a strong interconfessional military government with unquestionable authority over the army could avert widespread conflict, although Lebanon's democracy would be sacrificed. Indeed, Syrian foreign minister Abdal Halim Khaddam reportedly warned Lebanese politicians that the Lebanese Army was capable of uniting its ranks, staging a coup d'état, and imposing a military dictatorship.

Nevertheless, Lebanon's first and last military government was short lived, resigning two days after its inception. Even when installed in the government, the army proved unwilling or incapable of exerting authority in Lebanon. The resignation of the military government demonstrated the power vacuum in Lebanese politics and served as the catalyst to conflict. The rival military factions intensified their fighting, and full-fledged civil war began in earnest. Lebanese troops were unable to calm or control the situation which allowed the Syrian Army to intervene with their own military forces. Syrian troops began to pour in Lebanon in 1976 and have remained their ever since.

The need to give real authority to the Army was evident throughout the civil war. Only a national Army could possibly hope to restore some sort of order and replace the various militias, the Syrian troops who entered in 1976, or the Israelis who entered in 1982. Already in 1978 plans were drawnup to reorganize the Army, institute conscription, and eventually spread out to control the country. The vicissitudes of war and occupation made those 1978 plans little more than dreams until the traumatic war of 1982.

Israel's invasion and the election of Bashir Gemayel, and after his death of his brother Amin, as President of the Republic changed the political equation. Although Bashir commanded the largest and most powerful of the militias, the Phalangist "Lebanese Forces", he and Amin had both been committed to rebuilding the national Army. With US, French, and Italian aid, as well as help from Jordan, Lebanon gradually began to do so.

After the 1982 Israeli invasion, President Amin Jumayyil, convinced that a strong and unified army was a prerequisite to rebuilding the nation, announced plans to create a 12-brigade 60,000-man army, equipped with French and American arms and trained by French and American advisers. In addition, he planned to increase The Internal Security Force to a strength of 20,000. What the Army needed, it seemed clear, was a wholesale "new broom" approach, removing the deadwood from the command structure and installing a new breed of officer, committed to a Lebanese rather than a communal or regional identity. In December 1982, the long—time Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Victor Khoury, was "retired". He was replaced with Lt. Gen. lbrahim Tannous, who was considered by some too pro-Phalangist, but he quickly impressed observers with his ability to restructure the Army without exceedingly partisan decisions. And the new broom swept clean: a total replacement of all senior commanders and officials. It is said that about 140 general and field-grade officers were "retired." Many of them, like the once-powerful Military Intelligence Chief Col. Johnny 'Abduh, received diplomatic posts abroad.

Tannous generally adhered to the traditional confessional breakdown of assignments, but there were some surprising exceptions. Thus the commander of the Beirut region, traditionally a Shi'ite, was a Maronite, while the new commander at Junieh —— the Phalangist Maronite stronghold -- was a Sunni Muslim. Not only the faces were changing: the structure and manning of the Armed Forces ware also undergoing drastic change. The Army was down toabout 8,000 men at one point in the civil war (while total Phalangist militia forces were as high as 22,000 and the militias had more tanks than the Army).

By 1983 the Army was perhaps 22,000 and growing rapidly, with an ultimate goal of about 60,000, not counting Internal Security Forces [police] and a planned Frontier Force. One major change was the introduction of conscription, the so-called "Service to the Flag" law. Lebanon's conscription law was passed years earlier, but the civil war and the lack of Army authority made it impossible to implement. On 18 April 2003, although the Army still controlled little more than the Beirut area proper, "Service to the Flag" was implemented. The results astonished even the most optimistic Army planners. Within the first month of conscription, potential draftees flocked to the colors, not merely in Beirut but in other parts of the country -— where militias or Syrian and Israeli troops were in control, and thus the Army cannot enforce the draft —- straining the Government's ability to process them.

At one point Beirut requested an urgent shipment of 5,000 uniforms from the US: although the uniforms were already in the supply pipeline,they had to be specially flown to Lebanon just to cope with the number of new draftees. And, for the first time, the Christian militias were not dis-couraging young men in their territory from joining the national Army. As a result of the surprising response to the "Service to the Flag" law, Lebanese planners began talking in terms of as many as 12 combat brigades (compared with the seven to nine envisioned in 2003 planning). That was premature, a reaction to the first flush of success for conscription, but it was a sign of the degree to which the law was proving popular.

The force structure of the Army was being reorganized as well as expanded. Traditionally, Lebanon's Army was structured in battalions, without larger formations. Beginning in 1978, plans have been under way to create a system of brigades (all light mechanized infantry). The nuclei of eight brigades (plus a Headquarters Brigade and a Republican Guard brigade) had been created. As of early 1983, most were well below strength, but the US planned to equip them, combined with the manpower provided by conscription, were expected to allow for rapid expansion.

The US rebuilding program was being undertaken in several phases, first laid out in the so-called "Bartlett plan" drawn up in the fall of 1982 after a US Department of Defense survey team visited Lebanon to determine what was needed. This on-site survey was not binding on the Lebanese, but meshed neatly with the previous studies done in 1978 and thus became the framework for the US effort. The four phases envisioned by the Bartlett plan were:

  1. In the near-term, restructuring, arming, and manning fourbrigades up to approximately 70 percent strength, both in equipment andpersonnel. This phase was completed in the spring of 1983. It involved thetransfer of a very wide range of equipment, from large items like M-113 APCsand trucks to communications equipment, rifles, shelter halves, and uniforms.
  2. Phase II, which began in April 1983, was intended to bring the four brigades of Phase I up to 100 percent strength, and add two new brigades, which would be brought up to 65-70 percent strength.
  3. Phase ill, to be carried out over the following year or so, aimed to see the completion of the basic seven-brigade organization, the creation of basic infrastructure, and the possibility of expanding by another two brigades.
  4. Phase IV would deal with longer-term infrastructure and, perhaps, deal with reconstruction of the Navy and the Air Force. The other services were likely to be left to France or other countriesto develop.

The brigades for which organizational structures and at least nuclei offorces exist are each assigned to a region of Lebanon. Some had a few troops in these regions, although only greater Beirut was under direct Army control. The US effort to facilitate this rapid creation and arming of the Lebanese Army was well under way. By the spring of 1983, about 1,000 vehicles were said to be in the pipeline, either aboard ship or already on their way to Lebanon. Total costs for the first three phases were estimated at up to $500-million, with about $235-million already committed by May of 1983.

Initial progress was rapid. A new tank battalion equipped with M-48 tanks donated by Jordan was established. A new supply depot was built at Kafr Shima. About 1,000 vehicles, including hundreds of M-113 armored personnel carriers, were transferred from the United States to Lebanon. And at one point, new recruits joined so rapidly that not enough uniforms could be found to outfit them.

Lack of effective military leadership, however, remained the Achilles heel. United States experts were aware of this problem and devoted considerable attention to solving it. A cadre of Lebanese lieutenants was given infantry officer basic training in the United States. A team of eighty United States military advisers, including fifty-three Green Berets, provided officer training in Lebanon. Furthermore, Lebanese officers were attached to the United States MNF contingent for training in military unit operations.

Nevertheless, the Lebanese Army disintegrated in the 1983-84 battles in the Shuf Mountains. On September 16, 1983, Druze forces massed on the threshold of Suq al Gharb. For the next three days the army's Eighth Brigade fought desperately to retain control of the town. The tiny Lebanese Air Force was thrown into the fray, losing several aircraft to Druze missile fire. United States Navy warships shelled Druze positions and helped the Lebanese Army hold the town until a cease-fire was declared on September 25, on which day the battleship U.S.S. New Jersey arrived on the scene.

Although the Lebanese Army had beaten the Druze forces on the battlefield, it was a Pyrrhic victory because the army was discredited if not defeated. Approximately 900 Druze enlisted men and 60 officers defected from the army to join their coreligionists. The Lebanese Armed Forces chief of staff, General Nadim al Hakim, fled into Druze territory, but he would not admit he had actually defected. Thus, the army again had split along confessional lines.

In early February 1984, the Lebanese Army was routed when Syrian-backed Shiite units stormed Beirut and occupied the western portion of the city. After four days of heavy fighting gained control over Beirut International Airport, evicted the army from West Beirut, and reestablished the Green Line partitioning the capital. Shiite members of the Lebanese army answered their opponent’s call to desert and the Lebanese Army disintegrated. The disintegration of the Lebanese Army during Lebanon’s 1975-91 civil war involved individuals deserting with their weapons and joining the militias associated with their home communities. Such a collapse can be quite rapid, and difficult to reverse once it has started.

Shortly after the MNF withdrawal in February 1984, precipitated in part by the eviction of the Lebanese Army from West Beirut by militia forces, the United States Congress slashed military mat?riel credits given to the Lebanese government from the 1983 level of US$100 million to US$15 million for 1984. In addition, the training grant was cut from US$1.8 million to US$800,000. And in late 1984 the United States decided to suspend further transfers of military mat?riel to Lebanon.

In early 1985, clashes erupted again in the capital, this time between rival Christian factions. Recognizing that Syria was now the dominant arbiter of Lebanese affairs, Jumayyil and senior Phalange Party members held conciliatory talks with Syria and attempted to obtain Syrian security guarantees for Lebanon's Christians. In return, the Phalangists agreed to Syrian demands that the Christians make political concessions to the Muslims. However, a portion of the Lebanese Forces (LF) rebelled against the rapprochement with Syria.

On March 13, 1985, Samir Jaja (also seen as Geagea), a pro-Israeli senior commander in the LF, ordered his followers to attack Jumayyil's loyalists, Lebanese Army units, and Muslim and Palestinian forces in Sidon and Beirut. Syria massed troops around the Christian heartland north of Beirut, but agreed to give Jumayyil time to neutralize the revolt before resorting to armed intervention. Jaja's relatively small force could not prevail against so many adversaries, and on May 10 he was replaced by Elie Hubayka, who was elected by Phalange Party executives as the new commander of the LF. Hubayka was notorious for his role in the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres but also had a reputation for being more pro-Syrian than Jaja.

In 1987 the Lebanese Army consisted of 9 brigades containing a total of approximately 35,000 to 38,000 men, of whom only 15,000 to 18,000 were under the operational control of the central command structure. Many units existed only on paper, however, and soldiers who received paychecks were often in the service of the militias the army was intended to supplant. Under an informal agreement between the army and its renegade commanders, the ghost payroll was maintained to pump funds into Lebanon's war-torn economy. Additionally, the central government harbored hopes that the breakaway brigades eventually could be reunited with the official Lebanese Army.

In 1988, General Aoun who was Interim Prime Minister, declared a "War of Liberation" against the Syrians. Several months of fierce fighting followed but General Aoun temporarily defeated Syria and its militia allies. The General's next campaign to absorb some of the remaining Lebanese militias met with disaster and months of fighting brought enormous losses and the destruction of Lebanese air and navla bases. Syria capitalized on Aoun's weak position and launched an air strike at the Presidential palace and the Ministry of Defence, followed by heavy artillery shelling. After he realized he could not win, Aoun surrendered and went to exile in France.

This conflict served to cement Syria's grip on internal Lebanese politics. This conflict also brought about the last transformation of the army which focused on the Lebanese Ground Forces. On 13 October 1990 a military operation resulted in the unification of the Army, ceasing the fighting and reinstating civil peace in Lebanon. Following Aoun's departure a new pro-Syrian government rebuilt the army again into its current form. The result was the remarkable transformation of a military dominated by one sector of society -- the Christian communities, and particularly the Maronites -- into one that is characterized by power sharing among Lebanon's various communities, large families, and regions.

The UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1701 which called for a complete cessation of warfare, the deployment of the Lebanese Army and UNIFIL south of the Litani river. On 14/8/2006 around 15000 troops headed the southern borders to execute a large scale deployment operation which was called “the unified national will”.

During the 15-year civil war, Lebanon had a large number of militias and a substantial portion of the population served in them. Lebanon passed a law in March 1991 granting amnesty for all political crimes committed prior to its enactment. In practice, this meant that virtually none of the militia leaders (except for Forces Libanaises [Lebanese Forces] leader Samir Geagea) were judged and tried for theacts committed during the civil war.

As for the militias, all except for one (Hezbollah) were disbanded, and 4,000 former militia members were integrated into the Lebanese Army; several former militia leaders joined parliament as political leaders. Lebanon thus embarked on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that annulled the past in order to move into a brighter future, and a purge of Lebanese society has not taken place. When the Lebanese Army integrated 4,000 ex-militia members, it proceeded in a decidedly biased manner, picking the lowest and least politicized ranks from the Druze party militia and the Shi’a militia, Amal.

They excluded in its near-entirety the biggest Christian militia of the Lebanese Forces, which had applied for integration of 8,600 rank-and-file and 100 officers. The large majority of the integrated group was This choice stood in stark contrast with the official policy of amnesty and amnesia. As an institution of the state, the Lebanese Army would not forgive the one militia that had lobbied for the cantonalization of Lebanon and had violently clashed with the Lebanese Army during the last years of the war.

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Page last modified: 08-04-2013 16:50:02 ZULU