Operationalizing Strategic Policy in Lebanon
By Maj. Michael Foote
Originally published in the April-June 2012 edition of Special Warfare
The current strategy for success in Lebanon is built around two lines of effort: Increasing counterterrorism capacity within the Lebanese Armed Forces and direct support of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.1 Each of these lines of effort is focused directly at the desired strategic end state of help building capacity in the Lebanese government so that it is viewed by the international community as legitimate and stable, and in possession of a military that is strong enough to eliminate any internal threats and to deny the necessity or presence of any internal militias or resistance forces to counter perceived external threats.
Special Operations Command Forward – Lebanon: SOF Campaigning Left of the Line
By Col. Jack Jensen
The SOC FWD Mission
The SOC Forward’s mission is to shape and coordinate special-operations forces security cooperation and engagement in support of theater special-operations command, geographic combatant command and country team goals and objectives. The SOC Forward commander also exercises tactical control of deployed SOF in the respective country for the TSOC commander, who has operational control. The SOC Forward also serves as the TSOC commander’s eyes and ears in country to ensure that the SOF engagement strategy adapts to exploit opportunities in a dynamic 21st century geo-political and threat environment. To perform these functions, the SOC Forward must develop a close working relationship with members of the country team, the TSOC staff and partner-nation armed forces. The SOC FWD, which in the case of Lebanon is currently a three-man C2 node, relies on reach-back staff and logistical support from the TSOC. The Special Operations Command Central J33-Levant Operational Planning Team, for example, conducts planning, programming and coordinating support for SOC FWD Lebanon.
Although not formally a country team member under chief-of-mission authority, the SOF O6 SOC FWD commander is afforded a seat at the invitation of the ambassador at weekly country-team meetings and other country team director-level venues. Therefore, through placement of a SOF O6, the TSOC commander has been able to gain, in practice, a seat on the country team.
Lebanon Geopolitical Environment
Since gaining its independence from France on Nov. 22, 1943, Lebanon has been rife with internal instability and a 15-year civil war between Christians, Muslims and Palestinians. The war also provoked Israeli and Syrian intervention resulting in the introduction of multi-national peacekeeping forces. On February 14, 2005, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated after calling for Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon. On March 8, 2005, the militant group Hezbollah sponsored massive pro-Syrian demonstrations with hundreds of thousands of participants. In response, a million anti-Syrian protestors rallied on March 14 — a month after Hariri’s death — igniting the Cedar Revolution that led Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon on April 26, 2005 after 29 years of occupation. In the summer of 2006, the 34-day war between Hezbollah paramilitary forces in southern Lebanon and the Israeli military was terminated by UN Security Council Resolution 1701 calling for withdrawal of Israel from Lebanon and a commitment from the Government of Lebanon to extend its authority over its territory through its legitimate armed forces with assistance from an enlarged UN Interim Force in Lebanon. Since the 2006 war, the LAF deployed three brigades to take control of Southern Lebanon and enforce the provisions of UNSCR 1701 with the assistance of UNIFIL. In addition, U.S. security-assistance has helped the LAF to improve its overall professionalism and capabilities. Despite these efforts, the LAF continues to suffer from significant capability shortfalls. Following the 2007 “Nahr Al Bared” Palestinian camp conflict, U.S. support to the Lebanese Special Forces units led by SOCCENT through its persistent SOC FWD and episodic joint-combined exercise training and counterterrorism engagements, has greatly improved these units’ ability to counter terrorists and other sources of instability within Lebanon.
Since the advent of a pro-Hezbollah “March 8” coalition government in the summer of 2011, U.S. security cooperation with the LAF has been under review by policymakers and plans are underway to adapt our security assistance toward the LAF’s implementation of UNSCR 1701 and controlling of Lebanon’s borders.
US SOF Engagement
While SOCCENT/SOC FWD-Lebanon’s strategy for U.S. SOF engagement in Lebanon continues to focus on the counterterrorism line of effort with Lebanese SOF units, a second LOE is being developed to leverage LSOF trainers to improve the LAF’s ability to implement UNSCR 1701. This LOE involves U.S. SOF assistance to the Lebanese Special Forces School to develop professional LSOF trainers who will be deployed as mobile training teams to train other LAF units, especially in Southern Lebanon. In addition, Civil Affairs and Military Information Support efforts coordinated by the civil-military support element and Military Information Support teams will be utilized to bolster the LAF’s predominance throughout Lebanon.
The recent U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School Staff Assistance Visit from Sept. 18-30, 2011, was an important first step toward establishing U.S. assistance to the Lebanese Special Forces School. A continuation of this effort through future SAVs/subject-matter expert engagements will be critical to supporting both LOEs by developing capable LSOF instructors and an enduring professionalization of the force. In addition, training engagements conducted by SEAL platoons and SF operational detachments will assist with developing cadre for the LSOF Mobile Training Teams.
The shortcomings in LAF performance related to enforcement of the UN Security Council Resolutions primarily stem from capabilities shortfalls caused by a lack of modernization during the 29 years of Syrian occupation. The threat of impacts from instability in Syria, potential for Palestinian extremist unrest, the lack of a political mandate from the Lebanese government to disarm Hezbollah and threat of a provocation of Israeli military action against Hezbollah are the primary security challenges for Lebanon — and quite possibly the region. SOCCENT’s engagement strategy in Lebanon will help address all three by building capable LSOF CT forces, developing professional LSOF trainers and bolstering the LAF’s preeminence throughout Lebanon as a professional and capable armed force.
Achieving the above end state is not as simple as training the LAF to a predetermined level of military prowess. Once the military reaches that level, the government could call for the disarmament of all internal resistance movements; however, the regional turmoil surrounding Lebanon does not make that possible.
Despite the turmoil in the region, Special Operation Command Central has found and embraced a long-term regional partner force in the Lebanese Special Operations Forces. With these forces lies the cornerstone for increasing the overall CT capacity of the LAF. LSOF elements have been the focus of U.S. foreign-internal defense missions in the form of joint combined exercises for training and counternarcoterrorism operations for years. These missions have provided training and infrastructure improvements to the LSOF that have resulted in LSOF’s designation as the Lebanese national strategic reserve. LSOF is the perfect partner force for U.S. Special Forces.
Recently, the process to create and utilize LSOF training teams to increase the capabilities of the conventional LAF forces to provide direct support for UNSCR 1701 has been implemented. AOB 5310, of the 5th Special Forces Group, was the first company-level U.S. Special Forces headquarters to deploy to Lebanon to provide mission command to its own Special Forces operational detachments. It was also charged with the conduct of a program of instruction based on the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School’s Instructor Training Course to members of the various LSOF units who had been selected as the first LTTs tasked to train the conventional LAF brigades in Southern Lebanon. It is within these training teams that U.S. SF are creating a capability with the potential to further the strategic plan in Lebanon.
The LAF is constantly forced to react to actions and provocations from internal and external threats. Syria lies to the north and east where members of the Free Syrian Army cross the border into Lebanon for supplies and medical assistance forcing the LAF to expend resources internally as well as focus on security along these borders. The Syrian border creates an additional challenge because the LAF must be light and agile enough to counter guerrillas and bandits, but strong enough to counter a potential conventional threat from the Syrian Government’s forces. Within its borders, the Lebanese must also deal with a large Palestinian population contained within 11 refugee camps scattered across the country and the extremists who hide within them. Israel lies to the south providing an extremely proficient conventional enemy who constantly probes the border testing the Lebanese response and the response of Hezbollah.
Hezbollah is not merely a threat to the stability of Lebanon because of its focus on the destruction of Israel through violent means. It is an organization that has a strong support base among a large segment of the local population and because of this they have gained a significant amount of legal power within the various pillars of the Lebanese legislative architecture. Utilizing this legal influence to its benefit, Hezbollah portrays its militias as a resistance force required for the safety of the Lebanese people against the Israeli aggressors.2 To counter this effect and message, it is imperative that the LAF become tactically and operationally more proficient than Hezbollah’s resistance in order to mitigate the idea of the necessity of a resistance for national security.
The LAF’s constant struggle against each of these threats creates an immense shortfall on unit readiness and training. While the LSOF units have the luxury of waiting in reserve with time and resources to train their soldiers for specific mission sets (not to mention the training and resources provided it through JCETs and CNTs), the conventional LAF continues to be handicapped by a lack of training time, funding and modernization. It is this handicap that the LTTs are designed to mitigate.
Description of LSOF
Lebanese Ranger Regiment. The Lebanese Ranger Regiment has a long and proud history within the LAF. Originally established in 1966, it served as the elite guard of Lebanon. Following the civil war, the regiment was reestablished in 1984 and has had a significant impact on nearly every other LSOF organization in service today. The successes of the Lebanese Rangers led to the establishment of the LAF’s own Ranger School in 1990. The red beret of the regiment is a great source of pride across the country.
The Ranger Regiment is built around five mechanized-infantry companies, three mountain companies and an armor company, all of which are sustained logistically by a support company and a service and support company. The regiment’s primary mission is to serve as the national-strategic reserve. Being prepared for the numerous and varied missions that the regiment could potentially be called on to react to, requires the leadership to provide significant training to the Rangers who fill the ranks. Rangers are trained in small-unit tactics, medical training, mountain training, rappelling and demolition. The Lebanese Ranger Regiment’s prowess is visible in its success across a wide spectrum of operations including actions against Israeli aggression in 2006, combat against Palestinian extremists at the Nahr El Bared refugee camp in 2007 and internal-security operations that ensure legitimate elections in Lebanon.
Lebanese Air Assault Regiment. Founded in 1992, the Air Assault Regiment is tasked with serving as the strategic mobile-reserve force for Lebanon. Its forces can conduct reconnaissance missions, raids, ambushes, long-range patrols and search and rescue operations. The regiment most recently participated in the battle at Nahr El Bared against Fatah al Islam in May 2007.
The Air Assault Regiment consists of five combat companies, one armored company, an artillery battery and a support company. The regiment’s ranks are filled by soldiers who have completed the three-month Ranger Course and the Air Assault Course. Soldiers also receive specialized training on urban combat, demolitions, sniper marksmanship, medic course, rappelling and reconnaissance.
Lebanese Marine Commandos. Also known as the Lebanese Navy SEALs, the Marine Commandos were founded in 1997 to provide Lebanon with a maritime special-operations capability. Their training is based around the same small-unit tactics, close-quarter battle drills and advanced-combat skills on which the other LSOF focus. Additionally, the Lebanese SEALs are trained in combat-dive operations, underwater demolition, maritime CT and watercraft interdiction. The Marine Commandos provide a critical asset to the LAF in its defense of more than 200 kilometers of the Mediterranean coastline.
Creating the LTTs
Over time, the need to bolster support for UNSCR 1701 has become increasingly apparent. To achieve the goals of the UNSCR, a plan was devised to create training teams from the ranks of each of the LSOF brigades with the mission of providing training focused on improving the conventional LAF brigades stationed in the south. These LTTs would work with the Lebanese Special Forces School and the LAF G3 for training and doctrine to ensure the commands providing the LTTs and the commands receiving their training understand the importance of this task. Implementation of this plan would occur in two phases: create and train the LTTs and advise and assist them in their mission.
Creating instructors is never a simple or quick task. During October and November 2011, ODAs 5321, 5324 and 5325, of the 5th Special Forces Group, and a SEAL platoon conducted JCETs with the LSOF brigades. Each of the detachments was tasked to work with their partner force’s leadership to identify soldiers with the skill, talent, experience and ability required to be an instructor. Each LSOF brigade was to provide 12 soldiers— two officers and 10 noncommissioned officers — to fill the role of the LTT. It was key during this time to gain the support of the LSOF commanders. Without LAF command support, the LTTs would never receive the caliber of personnel needed to effectively conduct this mission.
No commander wants to give up his most talented soldiers to provide training for another unit. We see this within our own Special Forces groups as the “best of the best” are chosen for instructor duty at SWCS. General Jean Kahwaji, commander of the LAF, understood the frustrations shared by the LSOF commanders, but conveyed to them the importance of utilizing the talents and strengths of the LSOF to increase the capacities of the LAF overall and by December the LTT personnel had been identified.
AOB 5310 arrived at the Lebanese Special Forces School in January 2012 with the mission of training the personnel selected to fill the ranks of the LTTs. The program of instruction was based on the ITC taught at SWCS. Focused on creating instructors, the POI utilized small-unit tactics as the vehicle to demonstrate the various methods of instruction to the students and evaluate the students’ abilities to both conduct the tasks at hand and teach those tasks to others. Another goal of the AOB was to ensure the LTTs departed the Special Forces School with their own LAF-approved POI designed specifically for the training of the LAF conventional brigades in the south.
The advise and assist portion of the LTT plan will begin in April 2012. Members of the Asymmetric Warfare Group will deploy into the Litani Sector of South Lebanon to advise and assist the LTTs in their training of the conventional brigades deployed in support of UNSCR 1701. Each LTT will split into two components of one officer and five NCOs. These LTTs will then provide a 10-day POI to a single platoon of their assigned conventional brigade. This will then be repeated with the other half of the LTT and a new platoon. With this rotation, the LTTs will train a total of six Lebanese platoons each month providing the conventional brigades with improved skills in a critical sector of the region.
The Long Term Gains
It is important to understand that the seemingly elementary successes of creating and employing the small LTTs are critical steps towards future strategic success in Lebanon. UNSCR 1701 states, “There will be no weapons without the consent of the Government of Lebanon and no authority other than that of the Lebanese state.”3 Yet, Hezbollah has tens of thousands of rockets and an arms budget that provides weapons beyond the fiscal reach of some nation-states. The power Hezbollah wields in southern Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley comes from the direct support of Lebanon’s Shia Muslims. It is allowed to exist as an armed resistance force because of the perception that the LAF is not capable of defending Lebanon against Israel and other regional foes. Making the LAF more capable in the very regions where the fear is strongest is what gives the LTTs the potential to create a positive strategic effect.
While LSOF are the elite units of Lebanon, they are only called to action in response to, or in preparation for, a crisis. This mitigates their familiarity with the environment and denies them a direct relationship with the population. Success in the Litani Sector requires a constant and consistent presence that will only come from spending time on the ground and with the people of the region. The LAF brigades have filled this role since 2006 and the LTTs will provide them additional capabilities to provide increased stability to southern Lebanon.
An increase in LAF capabilities must also be tied to an information operation focused on gaining influence within the population. The LAF is seen across the country as the sole non-sectarian entity and is held in high esteem throughout the Lebanese population. Promoting this organization as the primary guarantor of both internal and external security will mitigate the need for any resistance or militia forces. The conventional capabilities of the LAF and the CT capabilities of the LSOF should be highlighted for these same reasons. Civil-military assistance in areas of Hezbollah control and influence could also be utilized, however, great care must be taken to ensure the LAF’s goals and desires are tied into these projects so they are not wasted or even counterproductive. Information operations will be critical. Each message must be clear and focused because most of the target audience will be have spent their entire lives actively supporting Hezbollah, doubting the power of the Lebanese Government, and preparing to fight against Israel.
LTTs and their advisers will be able to increase the effectiveness of all portions of a counterresistance plan. Increased time on the ground will provide opportunities to learn about the population’s desires, needs and grievances. These opportunities will create the potential to illuminate the resistance and other terror networks for LSOF to conduct actions against. They will also allow for feedback from the IO plan to ensure the desired target audience is interpreting the desired message in the desired manner. Implementing each of the various portions of the LOEs from CT to IO to LTTs in a synchronized and cohesive manner will allow the Government of Lebanon to leverage the population’s support towards the Government of Lebanon and away from Hezbollah.
Major Michael Foote is currently serving as commander of A Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne). He previously commanded two SFODAs and served as battalion operations officer within 3rd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne).
1. United Nations Security Counsel Resolution 1701 was approved on 11 August 2006. The resolution was intended to resolve the 2006 Israeli-Lebanese conflict and resulted in a ceasefire that began on 14 August 2006. Focused not simply on ending the hostilities of 2006, UNSCR 1701 provides a potential roadmap to lasting peace in Lebanon by emphasizing the disarmament of all armed groups within Lebanon, the deployment of 15,000 LAF soldiers below the Blue Line, a UNIFIL force of no more than 15,000 to assist the LAF forces in that region, and the limitation of weapons to the armed forces of the Lebanese Government.
2. Pamphlet from the Government of Lebanon, “Our Army and the Youth…When the Nation Calls,” distributed for the 68th Anniversary of Independence, 22 November 2011.
3. United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1701 (New York: 2006), 2, https://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N06/465/03/PDF/N0646553.pdf.OpenElement (accessed 2 February 2012).
4. World Tribune. “Israeli Intel: 40,000 missiles, rockets in Lebanon,” July 11, 2008. http: //www.worldtribune.com/worldtribune/WTARC/2008/me_israel0321_07_11.asp (accessed 2 February 2011).