The US has greenlighted two separate funds to help prop up Lebanon’s army and its Internal Security Forces (ISF), officials and sources familiar with the matter said, after months of being held up by the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The State Department first notified Congress at the start of this year that it wanted to reroute $67 million of American military aid earmarked for Lebanon to include “livelihood support.”
Washington’s move comes as Lebanon faces an unprecedented economic, financial and social collapse, one of the worst the world has ever seen, according to the World Bank. In 2020, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) stopped serving meat in all of its meals for soldiers on duty due to the economic crisis.
The support is for six months and will help Lebanese soldiers “put food on the table,” an official said.
A separate fund has also been approved for the ISF, which will be less than $67 million. The ISF has around 50,000 servicemembers compared to the LAF’s estimated 80,00 troops.
Congressman Michael McCaul was initially opposed to rerouting the funds, originally marked as Foreign Military Financing (FMF). But earlier this week, McCaul moved to allow the US taxpayer funds to be sent.
Al Arabiya English reached out to McCaul for comment.
But after the State Department answered questions from McCaul and other lawmakers, it was agreed that the funds would be marked under US Peacekeeping Operations (PKO), sources said.
PKO funding helps “diminish and resolve conflict; enhance the ability of states to participate in stability operations and address counter-terrorism and maritime security threats; and reform military establishments, in the aftermath of conflict, into professional military forces,” according to the State Department.
The US is expected to release a statement announcing the decision within the next few days.
US lawmakers were also concerned that the PKO funds would go through the UN agency, which was recently caught up in a massive corruption scandal. The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) was alleged to have been working as an investment bank and went as far as giving over $60 million in loans and grants to a single British family, the New York Times reported in May.
Following the scandal, the US, which publicly criticized UNOPS for not taking action earlier to resolve the signs of corruption, decided against distributing the money to the LAF through the UN agency.
Senator Chris Murphy said the LAF was an important source of stability in a country facing dual political and economic crises. “It’s in our best interest to ensure its members can continue to fulfill their roles,” he said.
“I was glad to see the administration put additional security assistance dollars toward that goal and am hopeful that support will be delivered soon,” Murphy added.
Gulf countries have also stepped in to help prop up the LAF. Qatar announced $60 million for the LAF at the end of May.
And the final statement from the Jeddah Security and Development Summit singled out praise for the LAF and ISF while thanking Doha for its announcement of “direct support for LAF salaries.”
“The United States confirmed its intention to develop a similar program for the LAF and ISF,” the statement read.