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08BEIRUT459 2008-04-03 10:43:00 SECRET//NOFORN Embassy Beirut
Cable title:  

LEBANON: DEFMIN MURR ON TRANSFORMING THE LAF TO SUPPORT CT OPERATIONS, UNSCR 1701, CAMPS

Tags:   IS KPAL MASS MCAP PARM PINR PTER SY 
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1. (S) In April 1 meetings with ASD Vickers and SOCCENT
Commander Mulholland, MinDef Murr outlined his vision for
transformation of the Lebanese Army to a more Special
Operations-capable force equipped with a Close Air Support
capability such as attack helicopters. In a new development,
Murr explained how he saw UNCSR 1701 as a tool that could be
applied to the Palestinian refugee camps to help address the
problem of terrorism, especially in the Ain Al Hilweh camp.
LAF Commander Michel Sleiman told us how he plans to create a
Lebanese Special Operations Command and how he wants to
assign commanders to this unit after Presidential elections.
LAF G-2 Intelligence Chief Khoury thanked the delegation for
the training assistance that the Military Liaison Element
(MLE) provided to the G-2 Strike Force during Nahr Al Bared
conflict. Both Murr and Khoury stressed the importance of the
U-2 imagery that has been provided to support counter
terrorism operations in the Lebanon. End Summary.

2. (S) Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations,
Low Intensity Conflict and Interdependent Capabilities
(SOLICIC) Michael Vickers, SOCCENT Commanding General Major
General Michael Mulholland, Charge Sison, Defense Attache and
ODC Chief met with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of
Defense Elias Murr, Lebanese Army Commander General Michel
Sleiman and Lebanese Army G-2 Brigadier General Georges
Khoury. The atmosphere of all the meetings was welcoming and
appreciative of USG support. General Sleiman hosted the
delegation for a lunch at the Yarze Officers Club (septel),
an honor that he reserves for his most important guests.

NAHR AL BARED WAS DIFFICULT FOR US
WE KNOW THAT WE MUST TRANSFORM THE ARMY


--------------------------



3. (S) Murr opened the meeting by recalling the difficulties
that the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) had faced during the
Nahr Al Bared (NAB) campaign in the summer of 2007. The LAF
lost a total of 176 service members as a result of the
fighting. (Note. At the end of NAB, the LAF had 168 KIA.
Since that time, and additional six soldiers have died of
their wounds. The two Red Cross workers who were killed at
NAB are now counted in LAF casualties. End Note.) Murr
explained that the LAF had a hard time because of the narrow
streets in the camp and the lack of equipment and ammunition
for the LAF. Murr also noted that the LAF force structure and
training did not meet national requirements.

4. (S) Murr said that the LAF had learned many lessons from
NAB. At the strategic level, Murr said it was apparent that
the army needed to shift its training and equipping focus to
support more counter-terrorism operations. Murr was firm when
he said, "we don't need this heavy army that was trained and
equipped by the U.S. in 1983. Things have changed since 9/11
and we need to rely more on special forces and fewer heavy
brigades. We need light and medium weapons and attack
helicopters to back up the grond troops." Murr surmises
that he needs 10-15,000 Special Forces troops organized in
10-15 Special Forces regiments supported by 20-25,000
conventional troops. He thinks that the army's current end
strength of 60,000 is too large for the missions assigned.

THE PALESTINIAN CAMPS: FULL OF TERRORISTS
NO RESPITE FROM TERROR FOR AT LEAST 10 YEARS


--------------------------



5. (S) The primary purpose of this transformed army would be
to address terrorist threats inside Lebanon. Murr told us
that Syria is still assisting the terrorists that are present
in all thirteen of the Palestinian camps. According to Murr,
other Arab nations are using the camps in Lebanon as a
dumping ground for their "dirty people." One of the more
interesting details about NAB was that of the 30 Fatah Al
Islam members that were killed and another 30 that were
captured, none of them were in U.S., European, or Arab

BEIRUT 00000459 002.2 OF 005


intelligence services' databases.

6. (S) "If you look at Ain Al Hilweh, we face another Nahr
Al Bared at anytime. We have to be trained and ready."
According to Murr's information, Ain Al Hilweh (AAH) is
becoming another NAB, but much, much worse. If a fight
breaks out in AAH tomorrow, Murr will have to deploy 100% of
his Special Forces (SF) units. This will leave him with no
reserve to address any other issues that may arise. If two
camps erupt simultaneously, the LAF will not be able to
contain either camp. For this reason, Murr wants to move
quickly to transform the LAF to a special forces-centric army.

REBALANCING THE ARMY WILL CAUSE RESISTANCE
HEAVY BRIGADES SHOULD BE PLACED ON THE BORDERS


--------------------------

-

7. (S) Murr expects resistance from the LAF Brigade
Commanders for any transformation that reduces the number of
brigade commands. (Comment. Brigade command is the gateway to
command of the LAF. A reduction in the number of brigade
commands would force earlier decisions on the future
leadership of the LAF. End Comment.) Murr wants to only
retain the five heavy brigades and place them on the borders.
The remaining six brigades, and the five intervention
regiments, would be disbanded and those personnel billets
would be used as billpayers for the new SF Regiments. Citing
a 1991 law that his father sponsored while MinDef, Murr said
that the establishment of new Special Forces units does not
require approval from Parliament or the Cabinet.

WE CAN GET PEOPLE TO SIGN UP
CHRISTIAN NUMBERS IN LAF WOULD INCREASE


--------------------------



8. (S) In a somewhat odd exchange, Murr explained that he
wanted to increase the number of Christians in the army by
recruiting them for SF units. Citing their reliability,
trustworthiness and eagerness to apply for SF, Murr (a Greek
Orthodox) told us that Christians are ideal for the mission.
Noticing some inquisitive looks from his guests, Murr moved
to explain why he needs to focus on recruiting Christians.
According to Murr, Christians will not enlist to be regular
infantrymen who are deployed in the south and on the borders
as this places them too far away from their families who
predominantly live near Beirut. More importantly, according
to Murr, Lebanese law requires that the Army be 50% Christian
and 50% Muslim. There is much room for the Christian
population in the Army to grow.

9. (S) According to Murr, the LAF staged a mock recruitment
drive during NAB to see how many would answer the call for SF
duty. Over 27,000 applied for duty in Nahr Al Bared. During
a recent recruiting drive, there was a call for 5,000 troops;
50,000 men appeared for review. Of these 50,000, 45,000 were
only interested in SF duty. There were over 8,600 Christians
from Mount Lebanon, a Christian area, who showed up to enlist
in SF. According to Murr, "when you want to fight terrorists,
you are fighting Sunni and Shia; you need Christians in
special forces to do this mission. If you maximize
Christians, you will have the best results."

SHIA NO LONGER A THREAT IN THE ARMY
THEY ARE NOW DOWN TO 25% OF TOTAL FORCE


--------------------------



10. (S) Murr told us that his recruitment efforts over the
last two years have netted 20,000 new troops for the Army at
the same time that many draftees have been leaving the army.
When this process began, the Shia accounted for 58% of the
enlisted force; now they comprise 25% of the enlisted ranks.
At the same time, Murr has been able to bring the Christians
to 25% and the Sunni/Druze component to 50% of the enlisted
ranks. Murr assesses that the Shia no longer "pose a threat"
to the LAF, even if Nasrallah were to call on them to leave
the army.

11. (S) Regarding the Sunni troops in the Army, Murr
described them as "very loyal." Most of the Sunni troops in
the Army come from the economically depressed region of Akkar

BEIRUT 00000459 003.2 OF 005


in northern Lebanon. Every one that joins the Army from the
north usually has an extensive network of family members who
are also in the Army. As for the Shia, Murr said, "they come
to the Army for a salary and to eat. Christians come with a
sense of community service; this is why the elites want to
serve in Special Forces. You won't hear this from the Army,
but it is their reality."

FORMATION OF THE LEBANESE SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND


--------------------------



--------------------------



12. (S) Murr intends to place all of these special forces
under a single command structure that will be known as the
Lebanese Special Operations Command (LSOC). The units that
will comprise this command are the Marine Commando Regiment,
the Ranger Regiment, the Air Assault Regiment and the
Mountain Battalion that is being trained and equipped by the
French. (Comment. Army Commander Sleiman also has this same
formulation in mind for units that will be assigned to the
LSOC. At some point, Murr thinks that this command will need
to absorb the intelligence gathering capability that the LAF
G-2 has in the form of its counter-espionage "Mukafaha"
regiment. The Army Commander does not share this view. End
Comment.)

INTELLIGENCE SUPPORT FOR NEW SPECIAL FORCES UNITS;
POSSIBLE APPLICATION OF UNSCR 1701 IN CAMPS


--------------------------



--------------------------



13. (S/REL GBR) Murr stated that continued close intelligence
cooperation between the United States and the LAF was
imperative in the near and long term. The recent imagery that
is being provided to the LAF gives them a capability they did
not have; in fact, "we used to be blind," said Murr. Murr
explained that there are very stringent military laws
governing the protection of this information. In the event
that a soldier was found giving away this information, he
would be tried in a court martial and be subject to capital
punishment if convicted. Murr, himself a lawyer and former
Minister of Interior, carefully scrutinized how this imagery
was used in NAB to ensure that international law was observed
and that no illegal actions were taken by soldiers. Murr
cited the evacuation of the civilians from NAB at multiple
stages of the battle as examples of GoL restraint on the use
of military force. (Comment. We noticed that the LAF was
responsive to its civilian leadership during the NAB conflict
and that its actions conformed to international standards,
the Geneva Conventions and the Law of Land Warfare. End
Comment.) As for the current imagery we are sharing with the
LAF, Murr told us that he continues to apply these same
standards when assessing the lawful use of this imagery. As
for any future counter-terrorism action in the camps, Murr
affirmed that the imagery would only be used for lawful
purposes. Murr said, "we will evacuate all civilians even if
we have to wait three months before we begin operations."

14. (S) Murr told us that the Ain Al Hilweh camp is the
largest conglomeration of different terrorist groups in the
Middle East. Ain Al Hilweh has secular and religious
extremists and also plays host to German and French
terrorists. Since the United Nations will not go into the
camps, Murr feels that the Government of Lebanon is obliged
to continue stoking inter-Palestinian conflicts to keep all
of the various groups on unsure footing. Citing UNSCR 1701
as an authorizing document for taking action inside the
Palestinian camps, Murr plans on sending in his SF units into
capture terrorists in the camps.

ARMY COMMANDER SUPPORTIVE OF LSOC,
WANTS TO WAIT FOR NEW PRESIDENT


--------------------------



15. (S) During our meeting with the Army Commander, Sleiman
told us that he supports the formation of the LSOC even
though the command consists of only one officer at this time:
Colonel Charbel Feghali. Sleiman's vision of the LSOC is
that the Regiments receive new commanders after there is a
new Lebanese President. This is in part due to the number of
officer promotions that will follow the installation of the
new president. Note. There have been no promotions in the LAF

BEIRUT 00000459 004.2 OF 005


for almost four years now. Former President Lahoud refused to
sign any promotion orders during his last three years in
office. End Note.

16. (S) Sleiman expects that the next Army Commander will
come from the 1975, 1976 or 1977 cohort of officers. He
expects the next set of Brigade Commanders to come from the
1980 cohort. Thus, all of his Special Forces Regimental
Commanders will be from junior cohorts, most likely 1985 or
later. Sleiman wants "young men with energy to be the
commanders of these special units."

17. (S) Sleiman envisions the LSOC being "almost equivalent"
to the army command. When pressed, he said that he wants the
LSOC to be an independent service, like the Lebanese Navy and
Lebanese Air Force, but that it would still be subordinate to
the Army as is the Navy and the Air Force. Sleiman has no
intention of placing the LAF G-2 Strike Force or the Mukafaka
Counter-Espionage Regiment in the LSOC. Sleiman is amenable
to the formation of another Tier One type force for the LSOC
that has similar capabilities as the LAF G-2 Strike Force.

NAHR AL BARED WAS DIFFICULT,
THE OTHER CAMPS ARE STILL A THREAT


--------------------------



18. (S) Sleiman thanked us for USG assistance during NAB. He
also recounted the number of soldiers lost and the amount of
ammunition expended. Sleiman feels that the soldiers could
have fired less ammunition, but their expenditure rates are
directly tied to the lack of marksmanship training over the
years. (Comment. Most LAF soldiers fire between seven and ten
bullets a year for training. End Comment.) Sleiman said that
he receives significant pressure from various human rights
groups about excessive force. Sleiman told us how the LAF
stopped at multiple stages in the battle and asked the Fatah
Al Islam members to surrender; when they would not surrender,
the LAF went after them.

19. (S) Sleiman says that the LAF learned many lessons in
NAB. The first lesson was that the camps are part of a
"criminal network" that is responsible for bombings
throughout Lebanon. In the case of NAB, the Army was called
in to arrest these criminals. The second lesson was that the
LAF has no idea what is in the other camps and they must be
prepared to pursue the criminals in those camps too. "We need
a solution; we need to be ready to defend ourselves and the
Lebanese citizens from these criminals," said Sleiman. The
Ain Al Hilweh camp is especially problematic for Sleiman as
the people from the neighboring city of Sidon are quite
sympathetic to the residents of Ain Al Hilweh. This is the
opposite of the situation in NAB in the summer of 2007 where
the local population was not supportive of the Palestinians.

LAF G-2 ON INTELLIGENCE COOPERATION
"WE ARE PARTNERS WITH YOU IN WAR ON TERROR"


--------------------------



20. (S/NF) Khoury opened our meeting with him by thanking ASD
Vickers for the continuous support of Lebanese institutions,
both in terms of equipment and intelligence assistance. From
his own vantage point Khoury told us that this intelligence
cooperation has allowed the LAF to be more effective in its
counter-terrorism actions and thus help the state. Khoury
assesses that the LAF is the only force capable of
effectively dealing with terrorism. "With your support," said
Khoury, "we will be the only military force in Lebanon and
there will be no militias," a clear reference to Hizballah.

21. (S) Khoury told us that the terrorist threat inside the
camps is real and expanding. Citing his agency's 57-year
history of collecting intelligence files on the camps, Khoury
feels that his organization is in the best position to
conduct counter-terrorism operations in Lebanon. Even though
the fight in Nahr Al Bared is finished, Khoury assesses that
there is still a large number of groups coming through Syria
to Lebanon that are sympathetic to terrorism; these groups
are living in the Palestinian camps. Khoury sees a strategic
relationship that stretches from Pakistan to Morocco that
ties these groups together. Khoury thinks that Al Qaeda is

BEIRUT 00000459 005.2 OF 005


looking to support operations out of the Palestinian Camps.
Khoury is ready to receive any training and equipment that
the USG is able to provide so that he can, "fight terrorism
for the benefit of the world."
SISON