The exercise Resolute Union 21 closed out May 28 in Lebanon. Over the 11-day multinational and joint exercise, the Lebanese Armed Forces, or LAF — security partners of the U.S. — exhibited top-notch performance, said the deputy director of strategy, plans and policy with U.S. Central Command.
"The word is that the LAF was an outstanding professional participant [that was] most engaged in the largest and most complex exercise in ... history to take place in Lebanon there," Air Force Brig. Gen. Duke Pirak said today during an online discussion with the Middle East Institute. "The fact that this type of exercise is going on and we're able to exercise this partnership, despite the conditions, is proof positive of the LAF being a responsible actor in a relationship that we'd like to continue to mature."
From a security cooperation perspective, the U.S. is looking for partners with shared security goals, said Dana Stroul, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East.
"We are looking for capable, committed partners who share our security goals," Stroul said. "With the LAF ... we are interested in developing a long-term partnership with an institution that responds to the Lebanese people, is committed to what's in their interest, and is a national representative institution to provide an alternative to Lebanese Hezbollah."
In Lebanon, inflation is high now, and the value of the pay received by members of the LAF has diminished greatly, which makes it difficult to provide for their families. Yet, the LAF continues as a valuable and competent partner in the security relationship it has with the United States.
We believe the LAF is a security partner of choice and [we] continue to invest in the strategic partnership.''
Air Force Brig. Gen. Duke Pirak
"Right now, what we're seeing that is remarkable — but that I think is very much a strain on the LAF — is their willingness to step in and provide some humanitarian response, humanitarian distribution at the very local level," she said.
In regard to the exercise Resolute Union 21, she said, even with the economic strain being experienced by LAF personnel, it still performed beyond what might have been expected.
"Despite the multiple ways in which the LAF is being asked to respond far beyond its written terms of what a traditional military or conventional military should do, it still participated in this incredibly impressive exercise with us," she said. "And we've seen them continue to maintain commitment to counterterrorism, to border security despite the fact that the real value of a salary of a[n] LAF soldier and what that salary means for the family that let that LAF soldier supports is diminishing every single day."
From the perspective of U.S. Central Command, Pirak said, the U.S. relationship can only continue to grow and should be maintained and strengthened.
"Security cooperation activities focus on supporting the continued development of the LAF and the capable, competent, reliable security force — mostly based on the principles of supporting territorial integrity and sovereignty — that which is basic to supporting the nation state," Pirak said. "We believe the LAF is a security partner of choice and [we] continue to invest in the strategic partnership."