The Lebanese armed forces are assigned defensive, security and developmental tasks under the Lebanese National Defense Law. Therefore, they must (1) defend the Lebanese territories against every form of aggression, (2) maintain internal security, and (3) assist in social and developmental fields. However, due to many reasons that cannot be mentioned in this article, the Lebanese Army focused its efforts on accomplishing the second and third missions. So far, it has succeeded in combatting terrorism, preventing armed confrontations and clashes between Lebanese components, and providing humanitarian aid when needed, despite the stifling political, economic and social crises the country is going through. If you think about it, this is where the paradox really lies.
The Lebanese Army has succeeded by virtue of its leadership’s wisdom, which relies first and foremost on the assistance given by various components of the Lebanese people to their national army. The Lebanese leadership also depends on the soldiers’ loyalty, their quality competencies and high morale, even in the darkest and most difficult circumstances, as well as their willingness to sacrifice themselves for their country. The leadership also depends on cooperation with other security agencies. Finally, it relies on cooperation with friendly countries, which provided the Army with most of the supplies, equipment, weapons and ammunition.
The Lebanese Special Forces, or LSF, also play a central role in this success. They are the cornerstone of every major military operation or, as one might say, “the Army commander’s iron fist that confronts terrorism and maintains national stability.”
The LSF operate as effectively as possible, regardless of resource availability. This was evident in their success in eliminating multiple terrorist groups throughout the last two decades as well as in monitoring, pursuing, arresting and carrying out proactive security operations to eliminate sleeper cells.
Despite these triumphs, the LSF still face significant challenges. But because we are fighting for our homeland’s existence, we do not despair, and we turn challenges into opportunities.
What are these challenges, and how do we turn them into opportunities?
The most significant challenges are the huge shortage of logistical equipment, the scarcity of financial resources resulting from the alarming economic deterioration, and the wiping out of most of the Army elements’ salaries, which is negatively affecting morale. We cannot deny the current bitter reality represented by the LSF’s dependence on Western equipment and weapons, including the high-priced monitoring, reconnaissance, surveillance and eavesdropping technology, which is not available on the Lebanese market and which is offered as donations by friendly countries and Army-loving civilians.
In addition, the Lebanese government stopped recruiting new soldiers in the Army and, namely, in the LSF due to the collapse of the economy. The implications of this decision have started to take their toll on the Army since there is no new blood among the aging force.
The fourth challenge pertains to the ability to change the way LSF operations are managed — specifically changing the traditional pattern of assigning, organizing and equipping their missions. This pattern led many times to assigning the LSF tasks that did not match their capabilities, such as maintaining the security of municipal and parliamentary elections, demonstrations, and sit-ins — tasks that do not match the ferocity with which their operators are trained. Assigning the LSF internal security missions impedes their ability to carry out their real missions and exhausts their capabilities.
The fifth challenge is related to the unification of the LSF combat doctrine. The current reality indicates that each unit trains with complete independence and often without coordination with other units. In the headquarters of each unit, there is a foreign team, usually American, that supervises the training without any common connection with other units. In addition, the Lebanese Army lacks the appropriate training infrastructure due to the scarcity of financial resources and the small space allocated for training.
The role of special operations forces is increasing worldwide due to demand, especially amid intensifying competition between the United States and China and Russia, and the LSF are no exception to this rule, despite the difference between types of missions assigned to them and those assigned to special operations forces in larger countries, such as the United States. And since the LSF occupy a good part in the Lebanese Army commander’s plan to maintain national stability, there is a national necessity to exploit all possible opportunities that may rise; to strengthen and support these units; and to reorganize and develop them to keep pace with the changing environments, according to the following general principles:
Reorganize the LSF: Based on lessons learned by previous experiences, the time seems appropriate to establish a “Special Operations Command,” or SOC, to coordinate LSF efforts, distribute their tasks and achieve their goals more effectively in coordination with the Lebanese Army’s operations directorate.
SOC develops a unified combat doctrine that organizes the training process, raises the readiness level, and develops creative techniques by eliminating routine practices and traditional structures as well as by creating unconventional operational models. SOC will gradually abandon the traditional organization of the LSF, and adopt advanced organization methods, tactics and techniques that take into account the tasks assigned to its units during counterterrorism and national security operations. We assume the SOC will take into account the peculiarities of the LSF by not assigning them conventional tasks, such as security operations, except at a minimum level, to avoid overburdening them, preserve their morale and maintain their capabilities for difficult missions.
Build a more lethal, aware and professional force: Upgrading LSF training is the cornerstone of building a modern combat force. From here, it seems necessary to develop the Special Forces School’s capabilities. The Army is currently building the General Joseph Aoun Special Operations Training Center, mainly funded by civilians and some friendly countries. The most important objectives of GJASOTC are to develop the LSF’s capabilities in counterterrorism, improve small unit tactics and ensure the availability of modern technology for integration with relevant tasks.
GJASOTC will also develop individual and collective capabilities, first by focusing on physical fitness, hand-to-hand self-defense, close-quarter combat and quick response. Secondly, it will develop operational skills related to special breaching techniques, advanced medical evacuation, safe communications, use of modern technology and all available combat means — specifically, sniping, monitoring, reconnaissance and surveillance.
It’s imperative we develop the capabilities of our noncommissioned officers; that means enhancing their self-confidence and ability to lead units in pursuing, attacking and eliminating terrorists, as well as helping them develop team spirit and overcome difficulties through collective thinking.
Since LSF operators often work in a civilian environment, they must improve their situational awareness and develop their abilities to adapt to different environments, while adhering to international humanitarian law.
Build a more dynamic, protected and harmonious force: The need to involve the LSF in tasks across the entire Lebanese territory, and the increasing threats to their movements, necessitated the allocation of large reconnaissance capabilities that qualify LSF to keep a watchful eye on targets while using artillery and close-air support capabilities when necessary. This means securing the links among the Air Force, the LSF and artillery units through the use of drones and Lebanese air-to-ground integrators, which provide fire support to LSF units on the ground.
To quickly reach locations by land, air or sea, it is important LSF units have effective mobility and protection capabilities. Part of that came in the form of MD 530G scout attack helicopters and a good amount of armored Humvees from the United States. When land, sea and air components are involved in a single operation, it can become complex; therefore, it is necessary to develop joint and combined operations capabilities, especially for nighttime missions, by activating communications, cooperation and coordination among the LSF, the Air Force, the Navy, conventional units and other security agencies to develop interoperability and a mutual understanding of capabilities.
Develop cooperation and coordination with friendly countries, among security agencies and with civil society: The LSF have benefited from the continued support of friendly countries. Hence, we must encourage these countries to continue their support in terms of supervising training, donating equipment, assisting in technical and tactical training, exchanging intelligence information, and financing important projects. The SOFEX 2021 exercise represents one of the most recent examples of this coordination, with U.S. special forces helping develop the event with the Lebanese Army’s operations directorate and the Special Forces School.
At the operational level, the exercise aims to develop the LSF’s capabilities in terms of command and control; communication; decision-making; implementation of joint and combined operations; rapid response to the requirements of various special tactical missions under highly complex conditions within a changing, dynamic and dangerous environment over the entire Lebanese territory; and activating and coordinating basic skills and equipment.
There is a real need to activate coordination among the Lebanese security agencies through the establishment of a “Combat Terrorism Joint Operations Room” to exchange security and intelligence information among them and friendly foreign intelligence agencies. The room will distribute tasks, organize rapid response, and prevent chaos and overlapping authorities. It is necessary here to focus on implementing joint exercises between these units to unify concepts, exchange experiences, develop mutual interaction, learn from mistakes and gaps, and raise levels of monitoring, surveillance, analysis and planning counterterrorism operations.
To win the hearts and minds of those in the environments in which the LSF operate, it is important to establish psychological warfare and civil affairs units within the organization. These sections coordinate with the Civil-Military Cooperation Directorate and the local environment to target terrorists’ incubating environment, to combat extremism and violence, to contribute to the establishment of the country’s infrastructure, and especially to alleviate the suffering of citizens during humanitarian crises and disasters.
Building for the future is a challenging task among constraints, crises and ubiquitous pressures, but it has become necessary.
Brig. Gen. Fadi Makhoul is the commander of Lebanon’s Special Forces School.