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US Considering Big Increase In Aid To Lebanon’s Army December 16, 2006

Posted by notapundit in US News, World News.
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WASHINGTON (AP)–Placing its chips on the besieged Lebanese government, the Bush administration is considering a large increase in aid to the Lebanese army and hoping moderate Arab governments will help, as well.

The army has taken on the risky task of extending its reach to the border with Israel for the first time in decades. The deployment of some 15,000 troops in southern Lebanon could provide a barrier to cross-border attacks on Israel by Hezbollah militia.

Referring to the army, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday, “It’s important to build up that institution of this government.”

“It’s important that we, as well as others, do what we can to help them rebuild their capabilities, whether that is with training or equipment or other kinds of assistance,” McCormack said.

Currently, $10 million has been allocated for training, with a smattering of other funds in the pipeline under other programs. Some 130 Lebanese officers and noncommissioned officers took military courses in the U.S. this year.

At the same time, the Bush administration provides $250 million to help in Lebanon’s reconstruction from the 33-day conflict last summer between Israel and Hezbollah fighters.

A conference to assist Lebanon is planned for Paris early next year. “As we get closer to the conference we will have a better breakdown of all of the various funds and in-kind assistance that we have provided or intend to provide to Lebanon,” McCormack said.

Assisting the army is part of a strong effort by the Bush administration to back the government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, who is under pressure from Syria and Iran-backed Hezbollah. Thousands of anti-government Lebanese have demonstrated near his headquarters.

The aim could be to reduce the anti-Syrian elements in the Saniora government, in which two Hezbollah ministers are in the Cabinet.

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