Politics in Lebanon

The Organization of the Lebanese Army

| Introduction |
| The New Defense Law |
| The Supreme Defense Council |
| The Military Council |
| Military Intelligence |
| The Commander in Chief |
| The Army |
| The Fourth Brigade |
| The Fifth Brigade |
| The Sixth Brigade |
| The Seventh Brigade |
| The Eighth Brigade |
| The Ninth Brigade |
| The Tenth Brigade |
| The Eleventh Brigade |
| The Twelfth Brigade |
| The Air Force and Navy |


After the 1982 Israeli invasion, President Amin Jumayyil, convinced that a strong and unified army was a prerequisite to rebuilding the nation, announced plans to create a 12-brigade 60,000-man army, equipped with French and American arms and trained by French and American advisers. In addition, he planned to increase The Internal Security Force to a strength of 20,000. But because the Lebanese Army could muster only about 22,000 men in 1982, the government decided on November 24, 1982, to impose the Law of Service to the Flag, a conscription law first enacted on the eve of the Civil War but never implemented. The conscription law mandated one year of military service for eligible males. Additionally, some 2,000 to 3,000 soldiers who were acting as aides to officers were transferred to combat units. As part of a shake-up in the command structure, gaps in rank between officers and soldiers were narrowed. In December 1982, long-time army commander General Victor al Khuri was retired and replaced by General Tannus. At the same time, about 140 field-grade officers were purged from the ranks through forced retirements. Many, including the oncepowerful military intelligence chief Johnny Abdu, were dispatched to diplomatic posts abroad. Hundreds of new appointments were made on a nonsectarian basis.

The United States was instrumental in helping the Lebanese government rebuild the armed forces. In 1982 the United States proposed a Lebanese Army Modernization Program to be implemented in four phases. The first three phases entailed organization of seven full-strength, multiconfessional army brigades, created from existing battalions. The fourth phase focused on rebuilding the navy and air force. The total cost of the first three phases was estimated at US$500 million. The United States pledged to pay US$235 million of this sum, with the Lebanese government paying the balance.

Initial progress was rapid. A new tank battalion equipped with M-48 tanks donated by Jordan was established. A new supply depot was built at Kafr Shima. About 1,000 vehicles, including hundreds of M-113 armored personnel carriers, were transferred from the United States to Lebanon. And at one point, new recruits joined so rapidly that not enough uniforms could be found to outfit them.

Lack of effective military leadership, however, remained the Achilles heel. United States experts were aware of this problem and devoted considerable attention to solving it. A cadre of Lebanese lieutenants was given infantry officer basic training in the United States. A team of eighty United States military advisers, including fifty-three Green Berets, provided officer training in Lebanon. Furthermore, Lebanese officers were attached to the United States MNF contingent for training in military unit operations.

Nevertheless, the Lebanese Army disintegrated in the 1983-84 battles in the Shuf Mountains. Shortly after the MNF withdrawal in February 1984, precipitated in part by the eviction of the Lebanese Army from West Beirut by militia forces, the United States Congress slashed military matériel credits given to the Lebanese government from the 1983 level of US$100 million to US$15 million for 1984. In addition, the training grant was cut from US$1.8 million to US$800,000. And in late 1984 the United States decided to suspend further transfers of military matériel to Lebanon.

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The New Defense Law

The 1926 Constitution designated the president of the republic as commander in chief of the armed forces, but it contained no other reference to the military establishment. On March 13, 1979, the Chamber of Deputies passed the New Defense Law, which reorganized the command structure of the armed forces. The law created the Supreme Defense Council, consisting of the president of the republic as chairman, the prime minister as vice chairman, and the deputy prime minister and the ministers of defense, foreign affairs, interior, and finance as members. The commander of the armed forces attended Supreme Defense Council meetings in an advisory capacity. The Supreme Defense Council had a secretariat, whose secretary general was required to be an active officer of the rank of colonel or above and who reported to the prime minister.

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The Supreme Defense Council

According to Articles 3, 5, and 6 of the New Defense Law, the Council of Ministers and the Supreme Defense Council were authorized to decide the nation's defense policies and to define their aims. Although the law reiterated the president's constitutional authority as supreme commander in chief of the armed forces, it also stipulated that he exercise this power through the Supreme Defense Council. Therefore, the law circumscribed the president's power over the armed forces and distributed some decision-making power to ministers. Article 17 of the New Defense Law placed the Ministry of Defense and all its attached organizations-- such as the Military Bureau, the Lebanese Army, the General Administration Department, the Inspectorate General, and the Military Council--under the exclusive control of the minister of defense.

The New Defense Law also stipulated that the commander of the armed forces be appointed by the Council of Ministers from among staff officers nominated by the minister of defense, who supervised him in his duties, except for military and security operations, for which the commander of the armed forces had sole responsibility. The law designated the chief of staff as the second in command. The New Defense Law strengthened the position of the chief of staff by delegating to him some responsibilities previously belonging to the commander of the armed forces--including training and legal affairs. The New Defense Law also created slots for two deputy chiefs of staff.

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The Military Council

Articles 29 and 30 of the New Defense Law established the Military Council which was attached directly to the minister of defense. Its members were the commander of the armed forces, the secretary general of the Supreme Defense Council, the director of the General Administration Department, the inspector general, and two officers with the rank of colonel or above. By tacit agreement, the membership was allotted along confessional lines and required to include a representative of each of the prominent communities: Maronite, Sunni, Shia, Druze, Greek Orthodox, and Greek Catholic. The Military Council's duties consisted primarily of organizing the institutions attached to the Ministry of Defense and naming the commanders of military regions, divisions, and brigades; commanders of air force, military, and naval academies; and military attachés in embassy posts. Because these responsibilities previously had belonged to the commander in chief alone, the New Defense Law diminished his power.

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Military Intelligence

On January 22, 1981, a presidential decree was promulgated to settle a long-standing dispute over the Deuxième Bureau, which had been under the exclusive control of the commander in chief and which Muslim politicians had sought to place under the authority of the Military Council. The law stipulated that the Deuxième Bureau was answerable directly to the commander in chief but would provide the chief of staff with all information available to it. Because the chief of staff is traditionally a Druze, this compromise allowed other communities to share in some prerogatives formerly reserved for the Christian community alone.

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The Commander in Chief

The commander of the Lebanese Army in July 1987 was Major General Michel Awn, who was appointed in June 1984 after long negotiations in the national unity government of Prime Minister Rashid Karami. Awn, a Christian, was a career military officer who entered the military academy at Al Fayadiyyah in 1955 and graduated as a lieutenant in the artillery corps. He attended advanced courses in France and the United States and was promoted to commander of the artillery corps in 1976 during the Lebanese Civil War. Although the majority of Christian officers supported the Christian militia, Awn stayed aloof from factional politics during the Civil War and earned a reputation for neutrality and loyalty to the government. During the war, he was appointed to a military committee charged with rebuilding the army. Awn strongly advocated the need for an integrated, nonsectarian army. In 1977 he assembled a group of army officers and soldiers from different religious groups who had not participated in the sectarian fighting and founded the Eighth Brigade, which, under his command, suffered few defections.

In rising to the position of commander in chief, Awn succeeded his old rival, Major General Tannus. Tannus's resignation was demanded by Muslim politicians who believed him responsible for bombing Muslim areas while leaving Christian areas unscathed. Unlike Awn, Tannus had also favored the creation of four separate sectarian armies--Christian, Sunni, Shia, and Druze.

In 1987 the Lebanese Army consisted of 9 brigades containing a total of approximately 35,000 to 38,000 men, of whom only 15,000 to 18,000 were under the operational control of the central command structure. Many units existed only on paper, however, and soldiers who received paychecks were often in the service of the militias the army was intended to supplant. Under an informal agreement between the army and its renegade commanders, the ghost payroll was maintained to pump funds into Lebanon's war-torn economy. Additionally, the central government harbored hopes that the breakaway brigades eventually could be reunited with the official Lebanese Army.

Lebanon's governmental expenditures on its armed forces were estimated to be US$328 million annually and its expenditure on military matériel imports US$240 million in 1983, the most recent year for which statistics were available in late 1987. In addition, a 10-year US$955 million supplemental sum earmarked for rebuilding the armed forces was authorized in 1982, but the program was shelved when the army collapsed in 1984. Army equipment included 60 AMX-13 tanks, 137 M-48 tanks, 18 M-41 tanks, 100 Saladin armored cars, several hundred M-113 armored personnel carriers, an array of Western-supplied artillery, rocket launchers, antiaircraft artillery, and small arms.

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The Army

In 1987 the order of battle of the Lebanese Army was in a state of flux. Officially, the army consisted of twelve nominal brigades. Most observers, however, omitted the first, second, and third brigades from the order of battle. The First Brigade, which was 100-percent Shia in composition, was stationed in the Syriancontrolled Biqa Valley, where it has been assimilated by the Syrian Army and Shia militias. The Second Brigade, which had been a mostly Sunni unit stationed in Tripoli, had dispersed. Likewise, the Third Brigade had disbanded. The remaining nine brigades were considered part of the Lebanese Army insofar as the soldiers were on the army payroll and followed orders from commanding officers. Not all of these brigades, however, were regarded as loyal to President Jumayyil.

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The Fourth Brigade

The Fourth Brigade disintegrated during the Mountain War in February 1984 as Druze militiamen attempted to create a salient from Alayh to the coast at Khaldah, south of Beirut. Half of the soldiers deserted and joined the Druze forces, while the remainder fled to Christian East Beirut and enrolled in Christian-dominated brigades.

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The Fifth Brigade

The Fifth Brigade in 1987 consisted of approximately 2,000 mostly Maronite troops under the command of Colonel Khalil Kanaan. The brigade's administrative headquarters was located in Sarba, north of Juniyah, an LF stronghold. It consisted of three infantry battalions and an artillery unit stationed in Brumanna, east of Beirut. In 1987 Fifth Brigade units were deployed in the strategic town of Suq al Gharb to prevent Druze militiamen from shelling the capital. The Fifth Brigade was regarded as loyal to the president, but observers believed that if called upon to fight a Christian militia, it might remain neutral.

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The Sixth Brigade

The mainly Shia Muslim Sixth Brigade had been commanded by a Christian officer, Colonel Lufti Jabar, and consisted of 1,600 soldiers and officers. Its mission had been to maintain order in West Beirut. It refused to participate in the February 1986 combat between the Shia Amal militia and the Lebanese Army, however; as a result, the Fifth Brigade was expelled from West Beirut. After the Sixth Brigade split off from the army command structure, it was taken over by a new officer, Major General Abd al Halim Kanj, and its ranks swelled to 6,000 men as Muslims from other army brigades deserted to join their coreligionists. In 1987 the Sixth Brigade was stationed in Shihab barracks in the southern suburbs of Beirut and was under the operational control of the Amal militia.

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The Seventh Brigade

The Seventh Brigade was composed of 1,700 men in 1987. A contingent of the Seventh Brigade was stationed in the Jubayl district, north of Beirut. This contingent was regarded as loyal to former President Sulayman Franjiyah, whose feudal seat, Zgharta, is a few kilometer southwest of Tripoli. Consequently, the central government equipped this contingent with light weapons only. The brigade's headquarters was located in Amshit, just north of Juniyah. Units at Amshit were well equipped with United States-made tanks and armored personnel carriers but were regarded as being under the sway of LF head Samir Jaja, who maintained his retinue in Amshit.

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The Eighth Brigade

The Eighth Brigade, commanded by Colonel Salim Kassis, was the strongest, best equipped, best trained, and most elite unit in the Lebanese Army in 1987. It was regarded as loyal to the president and the government. It consisted of 2,000 men, about 80 percent of whom were Christians from the northern region of Akkar, with the remaining 20 percent Sunni Muslims. It included a mechanized battalion equipped with ninety United States-made armored personnel carriers, an armored battalion with thirty-three United States-made M-48 tanks, and a missile battalion equipped with eighteen pieces of field artillery. It was stationed at the Presidential Palace at Babda and at the Ministry of Defense in the Yarzah section of Beirut. In 1983 the Eighth Brigade bore the brunt of fighting against Druze militia in Suq al Gharb and against leftist militia in West Beirut.

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The Ninth Brigade

The Ninth Brigade, established in 1983, was commanded in 1987 by Colonel Sami Rihana, a Greek Orthodox. The majority of his soldiers were Christians from northern Lebanese cities, such as Tripoli, although the brigade also contained Sunni and Shia soldiers and officers. It was headquartered in Al Hazimiyah, and one of its battalions was deployed in the Beirut port area. The Ninth Brigade was regarded as being totally loyal to the government, and it fought successfully against Phalangist forces in East Beirut in January 1986.

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The Tenth Brigade

The Tenth Brigade consisted of 1,800 soldiers, most of whom were Christians, under the command of Colonel Nassib Eid, and in 1987 it was stationed along the Green Line. Its troops manned the Beirut-Damascus highway to the Kafr Shima-Ash Shuwayfat front. The brigade was enlarged in 1984 when some soldiers and officers defecting from the Fourth Brigade joined it. The Tenth Brigade was composed of three airborne battalions and an artillery unit. The army's commando forces under Lieutenant Colonel Yusuf Tahan were attached to the Tenth Brigade. Tahan was an LF supporter, and observers doubted his loyalty to the government.

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The Eleventh Brigade

The Eleventh Brigade, composed primarily of Druzes, had a strength in 1987 of about 900 men. Its commander, Colonel Amin Qadi, ordered the unit confined to its Hammana garrison during the fighting between the Lebanese Army and the Druze militia in the Shuf in 1983 Mountains and 1984; this action was in response to a request from Druze leader Walid Jumblatt to neutralize the army. The Eleventh Brigade controlled the Hammana garrison and guarded the government radio station in West Beirut.

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The Twelfth Brigade

Little was known in 1987 about the mostly Shia 1,300-man strong Twelfth Brigade. It was commanded by Colonel Muhammad Saad and was deployed in various positions in southern Lebanon, particularly along the coastal highway between Khaldah and Sidon.

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The Air Force and Navy

In 1987 the Lebanese Air Force consisted of about 800 mostly Maronite enlisted men and officers under the command of General Fahim al Hajj. Its main base was Al Qulayat airfield, in the north near the Syrian border--an area under the control of Syrian forces. Additional military airfields were at Riyaq in the Biqa Valley, and at Halat near Jubayl, where United States forces built an emergency landing strip using part of the coastal highway.

In 1987 the airforce was composed of one helicopter attack squadron equipped with four French-made SA-342 Gazelle helicopters armed with SS-11 and SS 12 air-to-surface missiles, twenty-eight AB-212 transports, and SA-315 and SA-316 Alouette transport helicopters. These helicopters were capable of airlifting 300 men. In 1983 the air force had planned to increase its helicopter fleet to forty aircraft, and the Lebanese government signed an agreement with France to purchase about US$80 million worth of unspecified air force equipment. These plans were shelved after the French MNF contingent withdraw in 1984, however. The exact number of operational fixed-wing and jet aircraft in the air force inventory was not available in 1987. The air force apparently lost three of its ten semiobsolete British-made Hawker-Hunter F-70 fighter jets in the 1983-84 Mountain War, and only three of those remaining were reported to be serviceable. The air force was reported to have ten French-made Mirage fighter-bombers, of which only three were in commission. It also had eleven trainers--five Fouga Magisters and six propeller-driven Bulldogs.

In 1987 the Lebanese Navy consisted of 450 sailors and officers stationed at a naval base in Juniyah. Most personnel were Christians. The navy's fleet included six Aztec-class patrol boats, three Byblos-class patrol boats, and two French-made landing craft capable of transporting tanks and of being used in beachhead and evacuation operations.

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Source: Federal Research Division - Library of Congress (Edited by Thomas Collelo, December 1987)

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