Fidaa Itani

Jihadists 8 - Lebanon 6

The LAF isn't learning from clashes with jihadists

Lebanese army troops drive armoured personnel carriers (APC) in the village of Ras Baalbak in the eastern Bekaa Valley near the border with Syria during clashes between Islamist fighters and Lebanese troops on 23 January 2015 (AFP/STR)

When combat forces enter the battlefield, there is no room for slogans of solidarity and support — the will to fight, strength and expertise are all that matter. Regular forces always try to use strength, while non-regular forces draw on experience and quick-mindedness to secure victory.


We could take up slogans calling for the worship of the military boot in Lebanon and give the fans of Syria militarism what they want: glorification of soldiers and submission to the fascist nature of the neighboring regime. But then again, the reality on the ground won’t allow us to forget that Lebanon is still a civil state — of sectarian nature — and will remain so indefinitely. We know that our army’s task is to protect the borders, and beyond that to maintain internal security.


The available information from the field on the recent clashes outside Ras Baalbek suggests that what happened was a military failure on the part of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). The incident belongs to a series of failed military operations, the first of which did not take place in Arsal last August.


What happened at Tallet al-Hamra can be summarized as follows: The LAF, with the help of a partisan force, carried out reconnaissance and set up an advanced position on top of a hill. This position is monitored from two observatories set up with British assistance where British specialists are said to be working. The new position overlooks several crossroads that Islamist extremists fighting with the Islamic State (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nusra use to move along the Lebanese border and inside Lebanese territory. A response came from ISIS forces to the construction of the new position (which isn’t far from the location where Jabhat al-Nusra successfully lured an LAF patrol into an ambush on 2 December). In separate groups, just 40 ISIS members attacked Tallet al-Hamra. They killed four soldiers instantly, then three more, bringing the death toll to seven. Eleven soldiers managed to escape from the area, and later on an officer was killed during an attempt to re-take the position.


The LAF was slow to respond to the strike and the Islamist fighters stayed at locations close to the position, causing more damage to state forces in the area. During this time, the position was looted; everything that could benefit the Islamist fighters was taken, and the stolen equipment and vehicles entered ISIS-controlled areas of Syria. Despite the fact that what happened was observed from an LAF monitoring position, the response was slow compared to the swift strike carried out by the attacking forces.


For a period of 10 hours, the LAF tried to re-take the position. Various types of weaponry and aircraft were used in the operation, including helicopters, reconnaissance drones, heavy artillery and light to heavy machine guns. Ground forces were also deployed but didn’t enter the fray directly until it was too late.


As a result of rumors circulating at the time, civilians in Ras Baalbek to took up arms. They even came out on to the streets, fearing that the Islamist extremists would attack and try to occupy the town — something one man from the area says would be futile, explaining that “you can get to Ras Baalbek from other, easier roads.” But after the fierce attacks both ISIS and Nusra have launched against the LAF, this won’t make the town’s residents feel safe.


In technical military terms, what took place was a guerrilla-style warfare operation against a new position capable of disrupting the movement of militant groups on the border with Syria.


The mistakes and military failures of the LAF can be listed as follows:


  1. Whether the official LAF statement, claiming that 11 attackers were killed, or the account of a witness present at the site, putting the number at six, proves true, the numerical balance is not in the Army’s favor. This is due to the difficulty of finding new recruits, the expenditure regular fighters entail, and the political importance of local soldiers. The attacking forces are in the opposite situation — the human cost plays against our military, not the other way round.

  2. Setting up a new position and opening roads requires special protection during the set-up period. This was not available at Tallet al-Hamra, where some of the soldiers were working when the position came under attack.

  3. People following events in the area believe the responsible officer was absent, or that there was no field officer in charge of the position.

  4. The rear watchtowers failed to warn the position that an infiltration attempt was being made.

  5. The position was unable to obtain direct support following the initial strike launched by the extremist fighters and the soldiers in the position were unable to hold their ground.

  6. Nearby forces proved unready to provide the necessary support the advanced position needed.

  7. They responded by using rigid regular army tactics against flexible guerrilla warfare tactics. Many hours passed before an advance towards the position began.

  8. Field command in the area has failed to learn from a number of similar incidents in which extremist fighters were able to inflict heavy losses on Hezbollah positions, as well as LAF positions and foot patrols. Fighters have launched several similar attacks in the past without the LAF once managing to stop them — although there have been statements claiming the opposite, each statement has turned out to refer to the attempted interception of groups that simply happened to be in the area, not direct attacks against LAF positions.

  9. While the attackers moved quickly, the LAF failed to take swift action. Rather than trying to reduce the time between action and response, it allowed the fighters to enter the position, kill the soldiers manning it, and steal its equipment and weapons before withdrawing. After this, the Army remained in a state of shock for a very long time.


All this and more gives the upper hand to the groups of Islamist militants coming from Syria’s mountains or positioned on the edge of our Lebanese mountains. Until the LAF investigates all the incidents where it has failed militarily and Lebanese soldiers have been killed, we can expect to see more attacks and an increase in civilians arming themselves in self-defense.


Fidaa Itani tweets @Fidaaitani


This article has been translated from the original Arabic by Ullin Hope

Ground forces were also deployed but didn’t enter the fray directly until it was too late. (AFP/STR)

In separate groups, just 40 ISIS members attacked Tallet al-Hamra. They killed four soldiers instantly, then three more, bringing the death toll to seven."

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    You are barking at the wrong tree. The devil here is not in the military details, and no journalist can have the expertise to second guess military decisions made on the ground by the military leadership. The fact is that the army is a puppet in the political establishment's hands and is backed by neither the political oomph nor by worthy weaponry. I predict that, when shove comes to push, or to put it in more pedestrian terms, when the shit hits the fan, the army will break up along sectarian lines as it did in 1976 and in the 1980s. The Sunnis of the Lebanese army will break away if the army enters into serious confrontation with the Sunni terrorists, and, if the reverse were to happen and, say, the Lebanese army is put into a live or die confrontation with Hezbollah, the Shiites of the Lebanese army will secede. There is no evidence whatsoever that anything fundamental has changed in this country's political structure and modus operandi. The political establishment continues to use the army "just enough" to make it look good, but never "sufficiently enough" to score a decisive victory. Despite all the pathetic putrid sentimentalism, sloganeering and pathetic TV advertisements in which so-called stars and other bottom-feeders tell us "I support the army, and you?", we all know that the army in incapable of resolving the stalemate, now in its 45th year - not because of its men and women, but because the political equilibrium has a perfunctory hold on the army that prevents it from evolving into a real fighting force. In the past 40 years, the army was used once, with mediocre performance and at a horrifically expensive price, to settle the Nahr El-Bared situation. The only reason why this was possible was because Nahr El-Bared is Palestinian, not Lebanese.

    January 27, 2015