WASHINGTON – The United States plans to help train and equip the Lebanese army so it can take control of all of the nation's territory when warfare between Israel and Hezbollah eases, the State Department said Thursday.
The program was approved by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to take effect "once we have conditions on the ground permitting," spokesman Sean McCormack said.
McCormack provided no details on what equipment the United States might provide, the training that would be conducted, how many U.S. personnel would be involved, or possible costs.
Last week, the State Department notified Congress it wanted to add $10 million to the $1.5 million it provides annually to the Lebanese military.
Other nations will help out, too, McCormack said Thursday, as American diplomats consulted with French and other officials on a U.N. resolution for a cease-fire in Lebanon.
"We feel pretty optimistic that there's going to be something" worked out on a resolution at the end of the week or early next week, White House spokesman Tony Snow said.
Gen. John Abizaid, who heads the U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday the Lebanese armed force "needs a significant upgrade of equipment and training capability that I believe the Western nations, particularly the United States, can assist with."
Before the war, command officials visited the Lebanese armed forces for an assessment, Abizaid said, and "we saw that they needed some significant spare parts" and other help.
On prospects for ending the fighting, he said "it will never work for Lebanon if, over time, Hezbollah has a greater military capacity than the Lebanese armed forces."
Abizaid also said he believes Lebanon can extend government control over the entire country if it gets sufficient help, including an international peacekeeping force with a clear mandate, cooperation from the Lebanese government and "robust rules of engagement."
Asked what he meant by "robust rules of engagement," Abizaid said the commander of the peacekeeping force must be able to use "all available means at his forces' disposal. And I think, in the case of southern Lebanon, it'll have to have capabilities that are just not minor, small arms, but would include all arms."
Rice, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns and Assistant Secretary David Welch are working with other governments, mostly by telephone, to put together a resolution "that stands up," McCormack said.
This would include disarming Hezbollah, already ordered by the Security Council in 2004, and establishing an international peacekeeping force to move into southern Lebanon.
Nations that would contribute troops are expected to meet next week at the U.N. A meeting was postponed on Monday and again on Thursday.
Rice plans to spend the weekend at President Bush's ranch in Texas and will be "working the phones from Crawford," McCormack said.
"There's still some diplomacy that needs to be done," he said,
Bush has said he does not envision having American ground troops in a peacekeeping force, but the U.S. could contribute communications, logistics and other support.
The administration is striving for a resolution that would end the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, now in its fourth week, and also establish conditions for a lasting cease-fire. Many other countries favor an immediate cease-fire.
The military training would be designed to help the Lebanese armed forces "exercise control and sovereignty over all of Lebanese territory once we have an end to the fighting in such a way that is durable," McCormack said.