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US to provide $72 million in salaries for Lebanon’s cash-strapped army, police

Washington's support for Lebanese military staff comes nearly two years after country's top general warned of desertions and his troops' inability to afford food.
A Lebanese soldier walks past an American flag flying next to US made Bradley Fighting Vehicles at the port of Beirut on August 14, 2017. (Photo credit should read PATRICK BAZ/AFP via Getty Images)

US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea said on Wednesday that Washington will reroute $72 million in US aid money to Lebanon to help pay wages for the country’s soldiers and police.

Why it matters: The United States is the largest supplier of aid to Lebanon’s armed forces, but Wednesday’s announcement marks the first time Washington has provided funds to pay the wages of the country’s security forces.

Lebanon’s currency has lost 97% of its value since the country’s economy collapsed in 2019. Since the crisis, monthly salaries for enlisted soldiers has dropped by seven-eighths to roughly $100 per month, while many officers now earn roughly $250 per month. This week the Lebanese lira hit a new low of 56,000 against the dollar. 

In 2021, Lebanese Armed Forces chief Gen. Michel Aoun warned of growing desertions and said the army was struggling to feed its soldiers. The army had announced in 2020 it would no longer provide meat in its mess halls, and military officials began turning to Lebanon's allies and supporters for supplies — tires, spare parts and other basics — to keep things running.

That year, the Biden administration shifted an additional $30 million in aid to Lebanon’s military, mostly for spare parts and border security, and laid out a five-year plan to bolster its security forces. In lieu of deeper US assistance, other donors stepped forward. Qatar sent some $60 million in June 2021.

Last January, the State Department sought Congress’ approval of a plan to provide $67 million in aid to Lebanon’s military, including pay for soldiers. The United States and United Nations, which will disburse the funds, finalized the current salary plan late last year.

What’s next: On Wednesday Shea made it clear that the $72 million was a one-time allocation. She used the announcement as an opportunity to urge the Lebanese government to resolve its enduring political impasse and carry out the fiscal reforms it has agreed on with the International Monetary Fund.

“It is incumbent on Lebanon’s leaders to use this time to bring to fruition an IMF program,” she said at a press conference alongside Aoun, police chief Maj. Gen. Imad Osman and the UN Development Programme’s representative to Lebanon, Melanie Hauenstein.

Aoun described the crisis as “the most dangerous the Lebanese Army has faced to date.”

Know more: Read Jared Szuba’s report from 2021 on Washington’s belated response to the economic crisis’ impact on the Lebanese Armed Forces.

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