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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
08BEIRUT688 2008-05-14 21:46:00 CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN Embassy Beirut
Cable title:  

LEBANON: ARMY COMMANDER DESCRIBES CHALLENGES AND

Tags:   MASS MCAP PTER PARM PINR KPAL SY AE IS LE 
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FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1874
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHROV/AMEMBASSY VATICAN PRIORITY 1204
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
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					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 BEIRUT 000688 

NOFORN
SIPDIS

NSC FOR ABRAMS/SINGH/YERGER/GAVITO
DOD/OSD FOR USDP ERIC EDELMAN

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/13/2018
TAGS: MASS MCAP PTER PARM PINR KPAL SY AE IS LE
SUBJECT: LEBANON: ARMY COMMANDER DESCRIBES CHALLENGES AND
OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE LEBANESE ARMY

BEIRUT 00000688 001.2 OF 004


Classified By: CDA Michele J. Sison for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

SUMMARY
-------



1. (C) In a 14 May meeting, Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF)
Commander LTG Sleiman told visiting Acting CENTCOM Commander
LTG Dempsey that Lebanon is in a "civil war" that requires a
political solution. Sleiman outlined for General Dempsey the
difficulties of the current tactical situation on the ground.
Sleiman does not believe he had enough troops deployed in
Beirut during the recent crisis, but he never expected
Hizballah to do what it did in Beirut. Sleiman sees the need
for the continued military-to-military cooperation between
the U.S. military and the Lebanese Army, with a special focus
on training. End Summary.



2. (C) Charge, Acting Central Commander Lieutenant General
Dempsey, Central Commander J5 Policy and Planning Director
Major General Allardice, POLAD Ensher, LTC Paddock, Colonel
Townsend, and Colonel Zajac met with LAF Commander Lieutenant
General Michel Sleiman at his office in Yarze on May 14.
Sleiman warmly welcomed LTG Dempsey into his office that
overlooks downtown Beirut.

A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY THAT FRAMES
THE CURRENT ARMY CHALLENGES


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





3. (C) Sleiman opened the meeting by thanking the USG for its
support, saying, "I know you support us, the Lebanese Army,
and the government." Sleiman then gave a tactical history of
the development of the "resistance" against Israel in Lebanon
that began with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO)
in the 1960's, a very brief description of the seventeen
different religious communities in Lebanon, and concluded
with statements about the difficulties with his Israeli and
Syrian neighbors. "We always had 'the resistance' that began
with the Palestinians. Now it has been transferred to other
groups," said Sleiman.



4. (C) LTG Dempsey acknowledged that Sleiman has many
challenges, but that these challenges also provide many
opportunities for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). The
CENTCOM Commander asked the Lebanese Army Commander what his
strategy was for the employment of the LAF. Sleiman
responded by enumerating the LAF's five priorities: 1)
Defending the borders with Israel and Syria; 2) Controlling
the Palestinian Refugee Camps; 3) Combating terrorism; 4)
Preventing smuggling by sea or land; and 5) Preserving unity
in the Army to support the Internal Security Forces (ISF).

I HAVE ENOUGH TROOPS FOR MY MISSIONS
IF THE POLITICIANS WILL DO THEIR JOBS


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





5. (C) Sleiman told us that these missions were currently
being fulfilled by 50,000 troops, of which 40,000 are regular
army, professional soldiers and 10,000 are conscripts who are
on a Lebanese version of "stop loss" where they cannot leave
the Army. Sleiman said he hoped to convert these 10,000
troops into regular army troops in the near future with the
right incentive and retention packages. Even if these troops
stay, Sleiman does not believe he has enough troops to
adequately protect Lebanese citizens in the current
environment. Due to the current fighting in various
locations in Lebanon, Sleiman only has 3,000 troops in Beirut
at this time.



6. (C) Sleiman told LTG Dempsey that he has enough troops to
execute his assigned missions if the politicians could do
their jobs and keep the political peace. Sleiman told us that
he knew 50,000 was a large number of soldiers for a country
of Lebanon's size, but that it was appropriate given the
nature of the missions and the trust placed in the Army by
the Lebanese citizenry.

OUR COUNTRY NEEDS A POLITICAL
STRATEGY, NOT A MILITARY ONE

BEIRUT 00000688 002.2 OF 004




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





7. (C) In almost statesman-like language, Sleiman told us
that Lebanon needs a political strategy, not a military
strategy, to deal with its problems. Sleiman told us that
this political strategy should focus on two elements: 1) the
weapons (both arms and ideology) in the Palestinian Camps;
and 2) the weapons of the "resistance." Acknowledging that
these two items require a strong army, Sleiman believes they
need an equally strong political solution.



8. (C) Sleiman recounted the early days of the PLO's
existence in south Lebanon. In 1970, then Second Lieutenant
Sleiman was assigned to the LAF checkpoint in Labounie, a
small village in South Lebanon. He recounted that he was the
last officer at this checkpoint and took down the LAF colors
as the LAF withdrew from the south. It would be 36 years
later in 2006 that Lieutenant General Sleiman would raise the
LAF colors again at this checkpoint. "This is a long time to
not be in an area," said Sleiman.

WE CANNOT TELL THE SOUTHERNERS
NOT TO SUPPORT HIZBALLAH


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





9. (C) According to Sleiman, the Shia of south Lebanon told
the Palestinians to go back to their camps during the
Lebanese Civil War. In exchange, the Shia accepted
responsibility for the "resistance" against Israel. After
thirty years of representing Lebanese "resistance," the
people of the south cannot simply abandon the "resistance,"
in Sleiman's assessment. Sleiman does not believe that
Hizballah represents all of the Shia in Lebanon, since all of
the Shia do not agree with their politics or their habits,
such as Islamic dress. However, according to Sleiman, there
is no Shia in Lebanon who will strike Hizballah because
Hizballah protected their homes in the south for the thirty
years when the army was not there. During this time, many
young Shia men have been sacrificed to protect these lands,
so there is a heavy emotional component to their solidarity
with Hizballah as well.



10. (C) For these reasons, Sleiman feels that there is only a
political solution for the problem of Hizballah's weapons.
Sleiman also believes that Hizballah should accept the ways
of the rest of the country and allow others to live their
lives as they see fit. "They should participate in political
life, like parliamentary and presidential elections," said
Sleiman. Even so, Sleiman believes the issues of Hizballah
and the Palestinians are tied to the wider regional
situation. "If I could imagine that in six months the peace
process between Israel and Syria was complete, we could
really hope for a solution to our process in Lebanon," said
Sleiman. With these issues resolved, Sleiman thinks that the
independent Shia of Lebanon will be able to speak up and say
something different from Hizballah.

THIS IS CIVIL WAR
ARMY ROLE IN CIVIL WAR


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





11. (C) Asked what the Army's role was during a civil war,
Sleiman became uncomfortable, shifting around in his seat, as
he knew this was a very important question. "Yes, I call
this a civil war between the Shia, the Sunnis and the Druze,"
said Sleiman. According to Sleiman, it would be much easier
for him if he had an army that protected a regime instead of
a democracy. Since Lebanon is a democracy, the Army is
obliged to "dissuade" people from a civil war. Ultimately,
any civil war must solved by on the political level. "If
Christians and Muslims don't want to live together, army
cannot make them live together," said Sleiman.



12. (C) According to Sleiman, the current situation has been
brewing for the last three years saying, "everyday we hear
something from the Sunnis and Shia against each other."
Meanwhile, the only good things being said in the country are
being said about the Army. "But how long can we endure
without a political solution?" asked Sleiman.

BEIRUT 00000688 003.2 OF 004





13. (C) General Dempsey reminded Sleiman that Hizballah had
fired on its own people in the last week, asking him why he
did not go against the people who were shooting at the
civilians. Sleiman, again uneasy in his chair, demurred.
"There is more than one side to this fighting. This is not
just Hizballah. There are Druze and Christians to consider
too," said Sleiman. Asked if he would take action against
Hizballah when elected President, Sleiman said, "The Army
will continue to support, and control the situation, but not
100 percent control, because we will have difficulty without
a political solution. We can manage the conflict, but not
solve it."

WHAT THE ARMY IS DOING TODAY


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





14. (C) Sleiman told Dempsey that the Army is fully committed
around the country today. It is on the borders, around the
Palestinian camps, separating belligerents in Tripoli and in
the Druze areas, and in the Beka'a Valley. (Note: During the
meeting, word came in that the LAF was clearing the
barricades across the road at the Masnaa border crossing into
Syria that had been emplaced by Future Party supporters. End
Note.) "The Internal Security Forces do not do anything!"
exclaimed Sleiman. "The Army does it all!"



15. (C) Sleiman explained the Army's strategy of trying to
interpose itself between belligerents when a disturbance
erupts. At the same time, the commanders on the ground have
to act as negotiators between the two sides. LTG Dempsey
remarked that this is not unlike what his troops have to do
on a routine basis in Iraq. Sleiman also told us that the
Army is fully engaged today dealing with problems at the
Beddawi and Ain Al Hilweh refugee camps, the Yanta and
Qussaya PFLP-GC Camps on the Syrian border, and general
security of the entire country to include anti-smuggling
operations. Meanwhile, the ISF is not doing anything except
writing parking tickets according to Sleiman. "If I had its
24,000 men, I could do much more of my work," said Sleiman.

I SHOULD HAVE HAD MORE TROOPS IN BEIRUT
WE NEVER IMAGINED HIZBULLAH WOULD DO THIS


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





16. (C) Sleiman told us that he was now responsible for
securing everything in Beirut, to include the Ministry of
Interior and the headquarters for the ISF. "We needed 10,000
troops to control the situation in Beirut," said Sleiman. At
this time, Sleiman told us he only has 3,000 soldiers in
Beirut, with his crack special forces troops guarding the
seat of government and senior political figures. Somewhat
admitting his tactical mistake, Sleiman said, "We also did
not think Hizballah would do what they did to us in Beirut."



17. (C) General Sleiman gave a complete tactical briefing to
Charge and General Dempsey of his commander's map. The
kaleidoscope of factions, religions and politics were
represented graphically on a large scale map that showed all
of the streets in Beirut. Sleiman outlined how his troops
entered the city, how they cordoned off areas, and how the
belligerents were able to fire at each other, from the tops
of buildings, over the heads of LAF troops. General Dempsey
remarked that UAVs would be a useful tool to see this type of
activity so the commander could focus his efforts quickly on
the source of firing. "Yes, I know," said Sleiman.



18. (C) Continuing to heap scorn on the ISF, Sleiman again
said, "The ISF did nothing. They could not fight for one
hour to protect their people." Sleiman told us that the ISF
is commanded by a Sunni, and has many Sunni officers, and the
Miister of Interior is a Sunni. To add insult to inury,
the ISF's own headquarters were in the areathey were
supposed to protect with 4,000 men. Instead, according to
Sleiman, they did nothing. Acknowledging that civilians
should not be required to resist an attack, Sleiman was
surprised that the Sunnis did nothing to resist Hizballah.
Sleiman remarked that the Druze had resisted fiercely in the
Chouf, as had the Sunnis of Tripoli, and some Sunnis in the

BEIRUT 00000688 004.2 OF 004


Tariq Al-Jadide area of Beirut. However, in the most densely
populated Sunni areas of west Beirut, Hariri's people did
nothing in Sleiman's estimation.



19. (C) In the end, Sleiman told us that he does not
necessarily blame the ISF for its actions, as it is a
multi-confessional organization with its own limitations as
well. "My main concern," said Sleiman, "was that the
conflict would spread to the Christian areas because
Muslim-Christian fighting would have been horrible to stop."

WE NEED TO CONTINUE ASSISTANCE
WITH A FOCUS ON GOOD TRAINING


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





20. (C) Turning from the immediate tactical problems on the
ground, Sleiman told General Dempsey that the LAF relied on
the U.S. for its continued assistance and training. Asked
what he needed right now, Sleiman responded that the current
program was sufficient saying, "There is only so much you can
assimilate at one time. We must make our plan to assimilate
the equipment and training at the right speed." When asked
about helicopters, Sleiman agreed that additional aviation
assets would be helpful, especially in this type of
situation. According to Sleiman, what was even more
important to him was the recruitment of quality soldiers
("This is my problem, not yours to deal with," he said), and
providing them with good training. Sleiman told us that his
force has been continually deployed for three years now with
little or no training for most units except for his elite
special forces units. "When there is not civil war, we can
do any mission. We have a will to fight, to be united, but
with civil war it is not easy," said Sleiman. In closing, he
said the Army was, to the extent possible, limiting violence
and protecting the populace until a political solution was
reached.



21. (U) LTG Dempsey departed Beirut before clearing this
message.
SISON