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Army Commander Jean Kahwaji

Brigadier General Jean Kahwaji was promoted to general and selected by the Council of Ministers as the new commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces on August 28. Kahwaji succeeds President Michel Sleiman in the post to become the first new army chief since 1998. 

Defense Minister Elias al-Murr told NOW Lebanon on August 29 that Kahwaji meets the requirements of military competence and has the capacity to lead. Prior to his appointment, Kahwaji held a series of command positions, most recently as commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces 2nd Brigade since 2002.

Kahwaji is the 13th chief officer in the army’s 63-year history.  In accordance with the Lebanese constitution, all army commanders are Maronite Christians.  Previous army commanders include President Sleiman, Emile Boustany, Free Patriotic Movement Leader Michel Aoun and former President Emile Lahoud.   

Sleiman had slated Major General François Hajj for the position, but he was assassinated in December 2007 in a bombing near the Ministry of Defense. Brigadier General Kahwaji then emerged as Defense Minister Murr’s favored candidate.

Active duty Lebanese army officers declined to comment to NOW Lebanon on Kahwaji’s appointment.

Retired General Elias Hanna, however, told NOW Lebanon that Kahwaji’s appointment is “not about the past; it’s about the future, and I think he is a good selection for this reason.”  Hanna added that Kahwaji is “a good man, he is well trained, and he has much experience as a leader.”

However, Kahwaji’s promotion to the army’s leading post has detractors in several Lebanese political camps. Both Progressive Socialist Party and Lebanese Forces ministers and MPs objected to Kahwaji’s formal appointment as army commander and to his promotion to the rank of general, and questioned his qualifications.

But the majority of the cabinet approved the appointment last Friday.  

Kahwaji, a 54-year-old Maronite, has a long and distinguished service record with the Lebanese Armed Forces.  He began his career as a volunteer student officer before entering the Lebanese Military Academy in October 1973. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1976, and his first several assignments were with the military police battalion.  According to his CV, which is posted on the Lebanese army’s website, Kahwaji was promoted in 1982 to commander of the military police company in the Mount Lebanon region.
 
After his military police experience, Kahwaji began a succession of combat arms and staff positions where he showed exceptional competency, according to sources. Indeed, according to information provided by Minister Murr to Youkal.net, Kahwaji is known as a soldier’s soldier, and much of his career has been spent in the field rather than within the offices of the various bureaucracies of the Lebanese army or Defense Ministry.

He is known to be a “strict military man” capable of managing political pressures.  According to Murr’s experience, Kahwaji has an esprit de corps that allows him to lead all LAF officers regardless of their personal political preferences.

This commitment to the army as an institution may aid Kahwaji in building the integrity of the LAF as a truly national and neutral force.   

According to Murr, Kahwaji’s conception of neutrality does not mean allowing the strong to dominate the weak, but nor does it mean allowing smaller splinter forces to disrupt domestic order. Internal factions should be addressed with appropriate and controlled measures to deter aggression and ensure a stable Lebanon.  

Kahwaji has faced the potentially serious consequences of Lebanese military leadership before; He was a leader in one of the bloodiest battles of the late stages of the civil war. On October 13, 1990, Kahwaji was commander of Company 103 of the 10th Brigade, which was deployed along the Dahr al-Wahch frontline engaged with an advancing Syrian army. As General Michel Aoun fled the presidential palace for the French Embassy and surrendered his areas of control to the Syrian army, Kahwaji’s company held their position beyond the call of surrender until overwhelmed by the larger Syrian force.

The battle ended when negotiations were initiated with Captain Kahwaji. Kahwaji and members of his unit were then detained by Syrian troops, but later released under the request of President Elias Hrawi. 

Reintegrated into the Lebanese army structure in 1992, Kahwaji then assumed a succession of command positions leading to his current ascendance as chief of the army.

In 2006, after the institution of United Nations Resolution 1701, then-Army Commander General Michel Sleiman and Defense Minister Murr choose Kahwaji, then-brigadier general and commander of the army’s 2nd Brigade, to lead the deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces into South Lebanon. 

Quickly deploying approximately 16,000 Lebanese army forces south of the Litani River required a highly-competent commander, and Kahwaji drew praise from the Army Command and UN Security Council member states for his leadership in the rapid deployment and clear commitment to professional military standards. 

Kahwaji has prepared to operate in the contemporary regional and international military environment through specialized military training in the United States, Sweden and Italy. He also received training in diplomacy and defense in Great Britain in 2003. In 2006, he attended intensive anti-terrorism training in Germany. Kahwaji speaks Arabic, English, French and Italian. 

Kahwaji assumes command of a Lebanese army institution facing a challenging domestic, regional and international political-military environment. The Lebanese Armed Forces currently field over 70,000 personnel, and the majority of enlistees are Shia, while the officer corps is composed representatives of all confessions. After the Israeli withdrawal in 2000 and the Syrian withdrawal in 2005, the army now operates without the infringement of other national armies on its territory.

However, UNIFIL deploys nearly 15,000 troops in South Lebanon, Hezbollah continues to operate as a popular, well-organized militia, and other political factions continue to support armed elements. The army commander’s mission will be to balance competing influences while still maintaining the integrity of the army as a national institution that transcends traditional sectarian divides. 

“No one in can operate in a vacuum here; one has to deal not only with internal issues, but with many regional and international pressures as well,” noted retired General Hanna. Like anyone moving into a new position with complex requirements, there will be an adjustment period, but Hanna said that he believes Kahwaji is “surely up to the challenge.”

General Kahwaji was born in Ain Ebel, South Lebanon, on September 23, 1953.  He is married with three children.  

  • Vanessa Gobran

    Cher General, ou bien vous agissez avec une main de fer et vous gardez une immage respetuese et forte pour l armee libanaise ou cassez vous. **** un coup fort et dur sinon vous perdiez le respect*** une fois pour tous: CIS-FIRE Interdiction totale de porter et circuler de l armement tout persone qui porte de l arme est menacee d etre attaqueee par la rmee sans prevention et sans revendication. Le liban est ni iran , ni syrie ni usa ni KSA, celui qui veut partiquer la guerre pour n importe quel pays etranger, a 2 choix la prison ou ils se cassent dans ces pays ci dessus. et Profitant des ces prisonniers pour le nettoyage des rues. Vanessa, on vous aime cher armee libaniase, vous etes le survi de notre pauvre pays...

    June 3, 2012

  • Lebanese

    GENERAL KAHWAJI, WE ARE PROUD OF YOU TO BE THE LEADER OF THE LEBANESE ARMY THAT WE RESPECT. PLEASE UNDER YOUR COMAND WE COUNT ON YOUR EFFORTS TO PROTECT ALL LEBANON FROM DANGER AND EVIL . YOU SAID THAT YOU PROTECT OUR BELOVED COUNTRY LEBANON AND WE THE LEBANESE ALL ARE BACKING AND SUPPORTING YOUR EFFORTS TO PREVENT ANY TROUBLES . WE PRAY FOR GOD TO PROTECT YOU ALL LONG LIVE THE LEBANESE ARMY AND LONG LIVE LEBANON.

    March 12, 2012