International powers promise to help Lebanon’s crisis-hit army

Warning of ‘critical’ situation, Lebanese army chief tells French-led virtual meeting the economic crisis will lead to collapse of all state institutions.

The emergency aid will go directly to the army [File: Mohamed Azakir/Reuters]

A number of countries have promised to provide Lebanon’s army with emergency aid to prevent its collapse in the face of the deepest political and economic crisis afflicting the nation – although they did not provide details on the assistance offered.

Lebanese Army Chief Joseph Aoun told Thursday’s virtual meeting of world powers, which was organised by France, that the nation faced dire consequences if the country’s crises persisted and military salaries continued to tumble.

“How can a soldier support a family with a salary that does not exceed $90?” he said in a video, published on the army’s Twitter account.

“The situation is critical. If unmitigated, the economic and financial crisis will inevitably lead to the collapse of all state institutions including the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF),” he said.

Aoun said the army was the “sole guarantor” of security and stability in Lebanon and the “most trusted institution domestically and globally”.

“Therefore maintaining the cohesiveness and supporting the LAF to carry out its mission are of paramount importance.”

France, which has described the Lebanese army as “essential for the country’s stability”, arranged the meeting with partners including the United States, Russia and China, as well as and European powers and some Gulf Arab states, although not Saudi Arabia.

International efforts

Participating countries were asked to provide food, medical supplies, spare parts for military equipment and even fuel, although they were not asked to pay salaries directly. The shopping list drawn up by the military adds up to millions of dollars.

Two diplomats told the Reuters news agency not much was offered during the meeting, although the majority of countries showed readiness to offer bilateral support in the future. They said a follow-up mechanism would monitor and coordinate any aid that will go directly to the army and not via government channels.

Paris has sought to ramp up pressure on squabbling Lebanese politicians but has so far failed to push them to form a new government that is vital to unlock foreign aid.

Discontent has been brewing in the security forces as Lebanon’s currency has lost 90 percent of its value against the US dollar, driving down soldiers’ wages. Many have taken extra jobs, while some have quit.

“Even if numerous countries have already provided significant bilateral aid, the gravity of the Lebanese crisis calls for increased commitment and coordination from everyone,” the French defence ministry said in a statement.

“The LAF remain an essential pillar of the Lebanese state” and “play a key role in maintaining security throughout the country”, the statement added.

“Their cohesion and their professionalism remain essential to preserve stability.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies