The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) (Arabic: القوات المسلحة اللبنانية al-Quwa’at al-Musalha al-Lubna’aniya) is the military of the Republic of Lebanon. It consists of three army branches, an air force and a navy. The motto of the Lebanese Armed Forces is “Honor, Sacrifice, Loyalty” (Arabic: “شرف · تضحية · وفاء” – Sharaf.Tadhia.Wafa‘).
The Lebanese Armed Forces Emblem consists of a Lebanon Cedar tree surrounded by two laurel leaves, positioned above the symbols of the three branches: the ground forces represented by the two swords, the navy represented by an anchor, and the air force represented by two wings.
[mp3player width=150 height=100 config=fmp_jw_widget_config.xml file=http://www.anahon.com/songs/Teslam-Ya-3askar-Lebnan.mp3]
The Lebanese Armed Forces’ primary missions include defending Lebanon and its citizens against external aggression, maintaining internal stability and security, confronting threats against the country’s vital interests, engaging in social development activities and undertaking relief operations in coordination with public and humanitarianinstitutions.
The LAF consists of 72,100 active personnel with the ground forces consisting of approximately 70,000 troops, the air force consisting of about 1,100 personnel and another 1,000 in the navy. All three branches are operated and coordinated by LAF Command, which is located in Yarzeh, east of Lebanon’s capital, Beirut. Currently the LAF is ranked 6th in the world in terms of growth, with the number of military personnel doubling over the period between 1985 to 2000. The country has six military colleges and schools. The Lebanese officers are sent to other countries to receive additional training.
The equipment of the LAF is outdated due to a lack of funds, political bickering and until recently the presence of foreign forces. After the conclusion of the Lebanese Civil War, the LAF decided to repair as much of its equipment as it could, while being aided by modest donations from other nations. About 85% of the LAF’s equipment is American-made with the remaining being British, French, and Soviet-made.
The Lebanese Army first formed under Prince Fakher el-Din II the Great in the early 17th-century during the Principality of Lebanon (1516-1840). The first major victory came in October 31, 1622 against the Syrian army of the Pasha of Damascus in the Battle of Majdel Anjar. Outnumbered (5,000 Lebanese soldiers against 12,000 Syrians), Fakher el-Din was nevertheless victorious and was able to capture the Pasha of Damascus for himself.
During the period of the semi-autonomous province (Mutasarrifia) period of Mount Lebanon between 1861 and 1914, no Turkish troops were allowed to station within its boundary. Lebanon established its own army made up of volunteer militias; “the free independent bearing of these mountaineers was in striking contrast to that of the underpaid, underfed and poorly clothed conscripts of the regular Turkish army”.
The beginnings of the modern army arose during 1916, when the French government established the “Legion of the Orient”, which included Lebanese soldiers. After a post World War I League of Nations mandate was established over Lebanon in April 1920, France formed the Army of the Levant, which was later reorganized into the “Troupes Spéciales du Levant” (Special Troops of the Levant). These troops were composed of Lebanese and Syrian enlisted personnel, but were commanded predominantly by French officers; however, the percentage of Lebanese and Syrian officers in the force gradually increased in size to approximately 90% of the total number by 1945.
Later in 1926, the Lebanese First Sharp Shooters Unit was created out of the Special Troops of the Levant; it is considered to be a direct precursor to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF).
During World War II, Lebanese troops fought in Lebanon with the Vichy French forces against Free French and British forces. After the Vichy forces in the Middle East surrendered in July 1941, volunteers from the Troupes Spéciales du Levant enlisted in the Free French forces and participated in combat in Italy, North Africa, and southern France. In 1943, prior to the declaration of Lebanese independence, all the military units were combined in one brigade, the Fifth Brigade, under the command of Colonel Fouad Chehab. On the day Lebanon declared independence, the Lebanese Third Sharp Shooters Regiment was placed at the disposal of the Lebanese government in order to maintain security. In June of the same year, the French reconstituted units of the Troupes Spéciales du Levant, which were then attached to the British forces in the Middle East. The majority of the Lebanese Armed Forces remained a part of the French Army in Lebanon.
After gaining independence in 1943, the Lebanese government formed an official delegation in 1944 to negotiate with the French the terms related to handing over the LAF. After nearly three weeks of talks, the joint French-British Command decreed that responsibility for armed units under French control were to be handed over to the Independent Government of Lebanon. These units were part of the Troupes Spéciales du Levant and totaled about 3,000 men. On August 1, 1945 at 00:00 hours, the LAF was placed under full authority of the Lebanese National Government; this day is commemorated annually as Lebanese Army Day.
After establishing authority over the LAF in 1945, the Lebanese government intentionally kept its armed forces small and weak due to the country’s unique internal politics. Christian politicians feared that Muslims might use the armed forces as a vehicle for seizing power in a military coup. They also appeared unwilling to incur the cost of maintaining a large well equipped army. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Lebanon never spent more than 4% of its GNP on the military budget. Many Christian Lebanese also feared that a large army would inevitably force Lebanon into the Arab–Israeli conflict. However, Muslim politicians were also worried that a strong army could be used against Muslim interests because it would be commanded by Christians. At the same time they tended to feel that the military should be strong enough to play a part in the Arab-Israeli struggle. In addition to the two major conflicting views, prominent Lebanese politicians of the myriad religious denominations in Lebanon have also tended to be feudal warlords commanding their own private militias and feared that a strong army would endanger their personal power.
In 1948, the Lebanese Third Sharp Shooters Regiment fought Israeli Forces occupying the Lebanese village of Malkieh in the northern Galilee and captured it. This was the first major combat operation for the Lebanese Armed Forces under the Independent Lebanese Government.