Lebanon has been without a president for 286 days.
Despite the fact that Lebanon’s “vacuum management” government stature has been restored, security concerns remain atop the list of priorities for all political and sectarian factions, in light of the rise in the level of anxiety over border security, with the military developments taking place there on a quasi-daily basis .
As-Safir drew a map of the field based on the pressure exercised by the Lebanese and Syrian armies and Hezbollah on terrorist organizations that daily attempt to breach border security in the Bekaa Valley. The map shows that takfiri militants now control approximately 992 square kilometers (383 square miles) of the Lebanese-Syria border along the eastern Anti-Lebanon mountains, including 450 square kilometers (173.7 square miles) stretching over 56 kilometers (34.7 miles) into Lebanese territory.
Militants in the badlands number approximately 3,000 gunmen, supplemented by others from refugee camps in Arsal and elsewhere. The main factions swearing allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) or Jabhat al-Nusra include the following:
- The al-Farouq Brigade, led by Mowafaq al-Jarban (also known as Abu el-Sous), who also happens to be deputy to Abu Omar al-Lubnani, IS’ acting military commander in the Qalamoun. The al-Farouq Brigade has pledged allegiance to IS. Membership in the brigade reached its apogee of approximately 5,000 militants during the Qusair battle, but the organization now only numbers a few dozen members.
- Liwa Fajr al-Islam (Dawn of Islam Brigades) also pledged allegiance to IS. It used to be commanded by Imad Jomaa, whose arrest by the Lebanese army ignited the Arsal attack of Aug. 2, 2014.
- The Green Brigade, led by the so-called Sheikh Nabil, swore allegiance to IS.
- Liwa’ al-Haq (Brigade of Righteousness), led by the so-called Abu Jaafar Amer, pledged allegiance to IS.
- The Turkmen Brigade, led by the so-called Abu Qassem, also pledged allegiance to IS.
- Division 11, led by Abu Hassan al-Rifai from Ras al-Maara, is one of the most prominent factions that pledged allegiance to Jabhat al-Nusra.
- The Ghuraba Brigade (Foreigners) pledged allegiance to Jabhat al-Nusra. Its current leader is Abu Hassan al-Talli and its members are now positioned in the Al Jibbeh and Asal al-Ward badlands.
- The Al-Omda Group also swore allegiance to Jabhat al-Nusra.
- The number of Free Syrian Army (FSA) members who pledged allegiance to IS and Jabhat al-Nusra amounts to approximately 1,500 (out of a total of 3,000). Among them are 750 who pledged allegiance to Jabhat al-Nusra and 800 to IS.
All of the aforementioned fighters are ones who were defeated in previous battles, including that of Qusair and its countryside (including Tall Mendo), as well as in fights in the Qalamoun. Two pledges of loyalty are being currently adopted:
The 24-day battle waged by Hezbollah to protect the villages of Ras Baalbek, the Qaa and Hermel from rocket fire ended at the beginning of 2014 with the liberation of around 300 kilometers of Syrian and Lebanese badlands to a depth of 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) of Qaa and Ras Baalbek badlands, in cooperation with the Syrian army. This area spreads from the Jouseh badlands to Jimrah inside Syria, all the way to the outskirts of Baayoun, Kharab Doumineh and Hamra in Lebanon’s badlands.
The front lines between IS and the Lebanese army extend from the heights of the Hosn checkpoint on the outskirts of Arsal, past the Wadi Hmeid area (after the army checkpoint), Qouroun Sida in Arsal opposite the Masyadeh checkpoint in the west, all the way to Tallet Baakour in the badlands of Ras Baalbek, and Khirbet Doumina in the Qaa badlands.
Khirbet Younin in Arsal’s badlands constitutes a front line between IS and Jabhat al-Nusra; while the front line between Jabhat al-Nusra and the Lebanese army is located beyond Khirbet Younin, passing through Wadi Talaat al-Fakhit, Wadi Sueid and Wadi al-Rouyan to reach Wadi al-Hoqban, Dahr Aqabat al-Jirde and Wadi Atta in Arsal.
Jabhat al-Nusra’s control extends, through Arsal’s badlands, to Bourkat al-Fakhta that lies in the same badlands adjacent to Ras al-Maara in Syria, and the Keishek region on Arsal’s frontier with Nahleh, reaching beyond the Lebanese-Syrian border to the badlands of Asal al-Ward adjacent to Lebanon’s Tufail.
Jabhat al-Nusra and IS’ front lines with the Syrian army and Hezbollah extend from the south (beyond Lebanon’s al-Tufail), from Dahr al-Arid in Asal al-Ward’s badlands to the badlands of Ras al-Maara, Flita, and Qornet al-Bustan adjacent to al-Jarajir, followed by Khirbet Hamra or Tel al-Masyada in the north, adjacent to al-Bureij, all the way to the badlands of Qara and Jouseh, beyond which the militants face Hezbollah alone, specifically in Bayoun, located in the badlands of the Qaa, to Khirbet al-Damina north of those same badlands. Another front line between the militants and Hezbollah extends through the highlands of Younin, Nahleh and Baalbek’s badlands to reach Brital and Tufail.
Supplying the militants
Following the Syrian army’s takeover of the Qalamoun region, militants were pushed back and contained in the upper area of Qalamoun’s badlands where their supply routes were completely cut off from the villages and towns of the Qalamoun — particularly after control was restored to Lebanon’s Tufail, and the badlands of Zabadani were separated from the badlands of Brital and Arsal, all the way to the Qaa and the Qaa projects. Consequently, Syria’s Qalamoun is no longer the supply base for thousands of militants. A lone shepherd or militant carrying individual supplies may succeed in sneaking past the military outposts that dot the area in between Qalamoun villages, starting in Asal al-Ward (in Syria) adjacent to Tufail (in Lebanon), all the way to al-Bureij and Rheibeh on the border with the badlands of the Qaa. However, it is impossible to ferry supplies in bulk for thousands of militants.
As a result, illegal border crossings toward Arsal, particularly toward the camps located outside the Lebanese army’s area of control, do get supplies, and constitute the militants’ main source of:
- A “full pledge of loyalty,” which means that signatories have surrendered their religious and legal rights to IS and they now answer to them.
- A “working pledge of loyalty,” which means members take orders from Jabhat al-Nusra but retain their legal and religious independence.
Areas of control
The battle for control over the Lebanese town of al-Tufail in May 2014 was pivotal in splitting the Zabadani badlands in Damascus’ countryside from the badlands of the Anti-Lebanon mountains, specifically starting at Lebanon’s Ham and Maaraboun badlands along the border with Syria’s Serghaya, all the way to the desolate lands of Arsal, Ras Baalbek, and the Qaa in the northern Bekaa.
In the winter season, the badlands controlled by IS and Jabhat al-Nusra shrank to include only the countryside of Asal al-Ward in Syria’s Qalamoun along the border with the al-Tufail countryside, all the way to the badlands of Arsal, Ras Baalbek and the Qaa, a stretch of 56 kilometers (34.7 miles).
Beyond the badlands of Asal al-Ward, militant control extends to include al-Jebbeh’s countryside, Ras al-Maara, Flita, Jarajir, Talaat Moussa, southern and northern Kornet Sadr al-Bustan, inside the triangle formed by Nahleh’s, Arsal’s and Syria’s badlands.
Second to Jabal el-Sheikh, Kornet Sadr al-Bustan is the highest point in terms of altitude, at 2,590 meters (8,497 feet) above sea level; followed by Talaat Moussa at 2,580 meters (8,464 feet). These three summits adjoin the badlands of Syria’s Flita on the border with Arsal. The militants also control the Barouh Mountain, it being at 2,460 meters (8,070 feet) above sea level, which is the highest point in the badlands of Ras al-Maara, south of Talaat Moussa.
This mountain range overlooks the badlands of Asal al-Ward, all the way to Ras al-Maara and the border with Arsal, as well as the badlands of Brital, Baalbek, Nahleh and Younin. The region stretches, of course, along an open border militarily speaking — and is connected to the badlands of Arsal all the way to the heights of Ras Baalbek and the Qaa, where Hezbollah members spread in the area separating those badlands from Lebanese territories further down the plain.
In this area, militants are divided among 21 compounds, each containing a number of deployment points, receiving supplies through the Sheikh Ali and Jarajir crossings (toward Flita), Martabaya and Zimrani (on the outskirts of Qara), and Wadi Mira (between Qara and Breij), which remain under their control, although supplies from the Qalamoun region have stopped.
IS currently controls these crossings, following battles waged against Jabhat al-Nusra in the badlands, which led to the signing of an agreement between the late IS commander Abu Aisha al-Banyassi and Jabhat al-Nusra’s Qalamoun strongman Abu Malek al-Talli, to divide the badlands into two areas of influence.
Consequently, IS now controls the badlands extending from Khirbet Younin in Arsal’s countryside to Kornet Shaabet al-Qadi on the Lebanese-Syrian border, extending into Syria’s badlands on the outskirts of Flita and Jarajir. IS also controls the area from Khirbet Younin to the northeast, all the way to the outskirts of Syria’s Qara, encompassing Talet Baakour in the badlands of Ras Baalbek, Mrah al-Mkeirimeh in Ras Baalbek and the Maalef Fort on the border in between the badlands of Ras Baalbek and the Qaa.
Moreover, IS has a presence in Khirbet Doumina — located in the badlands of the Qaa — Jabal Hwarta, all the way to Khirbet Bayoun (Qaa badlands) on the border between the badlands of Jouseh and Jablet Hasieh on the border between the badlands of Breij, and Rheibeh north of Qara in Syria’s badlands.
In total, there are approximately 14 small and medium-sized camps situated outside the Lebanese army’s area of control.
The militants possess a wide variety of heavy and light weapons, including heavy 23 mm, 14.5 mm and 12.7 mm Douchka guns. These heavy machine guns number approximately 150 pieces.
They also wield hundreds of guided anti-tank missiles including the Cornet (which has a range of 5 kilometers [3.1 miles]), the Fagot and the American made TAW (both with a range of 4 kilometers [2.5 miles]), as well as the Red Arrow (a range of 3.5-kilometers [2.2 miles], which was originally made by China, but is now reproduced in Pakistan. The last two are weapons the Syrian army does not possess.
In addition, the militants possess a small number of tanks and personnel carriers, mortars, homemade rockets, and 107mm rockets (mini Katyushas) with a range of around 7 kilometers [4.3 miles], as well as Grad rockets with a range of 22 kilometers [13.7 miles], heavy bulldozers and trucks.
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