American officials advocate US support to Lebanese military following aid freeze

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US politicians and military officials are speaking up about their support for the Lebanese military following confirmation that the Trump administration is withholding $105 million in security aid to Lebanon.

US Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and US Central Command (CENTCOM) chief General Kenneth McKenzie told Al Arabiya English they approve of US support to the Lebanese military.

Murphy told Al Arabiya English in an exclusive interview that he is a “big supporter” of US engagement with the Lebanese military.

“I think they [Lebanese Armed Forces] are a partner for peace and stability. An imperfect partner, but a partner nonetheless,” Murphy told Al Arabiya English at the annual IISS Manama Dialogue conference in Bahrain.

McKenzie said that CENTCOM supports “continued assistance” to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), albeit their “record is not perfect.”

“We think the LAF needs to be the military element of the government of Lebanon. I would certainly support continuous support to the LAF,” said McKenzie.

Earlier this month, it was reported the Trump administration has frozen $105 million in security aid to Lebanon, including military vehicles, weapons and ammunition.

David Hale, the top career diplomat at the State Department, confirmed the freeze on Wednesday, saying there was apparently “a dispute over the efficacy of the assistance.”

The US State Department told Congress on October 31 that the White House budget office and National Security Council had decided to withhold the foreign military assistance, according to two US officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity. The officials did not say why the aid was blocked.

The aid was frozen before massive demonstrations, protesting against economic hardship and corruption, began in Lebanon on October 17.

Nina Shea, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, said that American leadership should rally allies behind the demands of the protesters and the LAF, “which has kept order until now.”

“Either the LAF is supported to be the dominant force that ensures an orderly transition and protects all the population, regardless of religious identity - or they’re abandoned to the benefit of Hezbollah, Iranian tyranny and other malign actors,” said Shea in an interview with Al Arabiya English.

The Trump administration, which has not publicly explained its decision to withhold funding, has been pressing for the isolation of Lebanese Hezbollah, which is allied with Iran and has seats in the government.

Shea called on American and allied diplomacy to quickly held build a consensus around a “new accountable and Hezbollah-free government.”

“With American policy leadership, the Middle East could experience a moment like 1989, with Lebanon and Iraq as the new Poland and Hungary - and Iran, the Soviet Union,” said Shea.

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