WASHINGTON – The United States is stepping up its aid to the Lebanese military to help it enforce government sovereignty in southern Lebanon, now the bailiwick of the Hezbollah guerrillas, the State Department said Friday.
Current allocations for the Lebanese are slightly more than $1.5 million, department spokesman Tom Casey said, and the department has notified Congress it wants to send urgently another $10 million.
"What we are trying to do here is finish the work of Resolution 1559," Casey said, speaking of the U.N. Security Council resolution that rid Lebanon of Syrian troops for the first time in almost 30 years. The resolution also demands the disarming of militias in Lebanon, which meant Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah.
Casey said the United States wants "to make sure that the government of Lebanon does have full sovereignty and control over the complete length of its territory."
The question of standing up Lebanon's military force arose in a discussion of efforts to arrange an international force to police southern Lebanon and keep Lebanese and Israeli forces separated.
"Obviously we have as a fundamental goal for this force not simply putting an international force in, but having that international force as one of its primary objectives assist the Lebanese forces to be present, to be in the area and to take charge of the border," Casey said in his regular briefing.
"This is not about having an international force do the job for the government of Lebanon," he said. "It's about having an international force help the government of Lebanon and help the Lebanese armed forces stand up, take charge and ultimately be able to be completely responsible themselves for security."
The additional money going to the Lebanese military would be for "some very basic issues, such as providing spare parts and maintenance and other kinds of things for trucks and personnel carriers and other vehicles," Casey said.
He said a lack of logistical capabilities has been worrying the Lebanese army.
In January, Saad Hariri, a Lebanese member of parliament and son of the assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, came to Washington to talk with Bush administration officials about upgrading the country's security forces.