US releases $105m of withheld aid to Lebanon's armed forces

A senior US official confirmed the news

Lebanese armed forces take part in a military parade for Independence Day celebrations marking 75 years since the end of France's mandate in Lebanon, on November 22, 2018.
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The Trump administration told Congress on Monday that it has released the $105 million in annual aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces, which had been withheld after a White House request.

“The United States remains committed to strengthening the capacity of the Lebanese Armed Forces to secure Lebanon’s borders, defend its sovereignty and preserve its stability,” a senior US official told AP.

Another official confirmed the move to The National.

The official said the armed forces was the only legitimate defence arm of the government of Lebanon.

Last month it was reported that the Trump administration was withholding the amount and had informed Congress.

There was no official explanation given for the hold, which some officials attributed privately to “bureaucratic measures”.

On Monday, congressional staffers confirmed the release of the aid and said there had been no delay in any deliveries.

Since 2005, the US has provided $2.29bn in military assistance to Lebanon.

A US defence official also confirmed the continuity of the Train and Equip aid programme for the Lebanese forces.

"There is no change to Section 333 assistance at this time," a Pentagon official told The National.

Hanin Ghaddar, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, attributed the release of the aid to pressure from Congress, the State Department and the Pentagon, against what was seen as a White House push to freeze the aid.

Ms Ghaddar said there was also “a general realisation in Washington that this is the worst time to hold the aid".

US Senator Chris Murphy visited Lebanon last week and heavily criticised the administration for the aid freeze, calling it “the dumbest thing we could do to weaken Hezbollah”.

Ms Ghaddar said: “Despite violations of the military intelligence, it has been generally doing a great job at protecting the protesters and challenging Hezbollah’s plans."

Lebanon has been swept with anti-corruption protests since mid-October, which have toppled the government of Saad Hariri and have been met with opposition from Hezbollah.

Firas Maksad, an adjunct professor at George Washington University, said the release of aid was a boost to the armed forces at a critical time.

"The military, with a good but imperfect record of dealing with peaceful protesters, has been resisting significant pressure from Hezbollah to forcefully reopen major highways and stand aside as its supporters attack the demonstrators," Mr Maksad told The National.

“Despite its shortcomings and much room for improvement, the US aid to the Lebanese army remains key for maintaining some US leverage in Beirut and preventing near total Iranian dominance."

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on the Lebanese army and security services “to continue to ensure the rights and safety of the protesters".

Washington’s ambassador to Lebanon, Elizabeth Richard, is preparing to leave her post and the Trump administration has nominated career diplomat Dorothy Shea for the position.