x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

US mulls sending military training teams to Lebanon, Iraq

Commanders told to explore ways to increase security assistance to Lebanon and Iraq as Syria violence spills across its borders and Iraq faces growing threats from Al Qaeda.

WASHINGTON // US military commanders have been told to explore ways to increase security assistance to Lebanon and Iraq.

The order came as the violence in Syria spills across the borders and the Iraqis face growing threats from the local Al Qaeda offshoot.

General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said the assistance is aimed at improving the two nations' military capabilities and could include sending in US training teams and accelerating foreign military sales of weapons and equipment to Iraq and Lebanon.

Gen Dempsey made the recommendation to US Central Command in recent weeks, according to the air force Colonel Ed Thomas, a spokesman for the army general. There have been no US military trainers in Iraq since troops left at the end of 2011, as the war there ended. But the US has provided military training and assistance to Lebanon for a number of years.

"Militarily, what we're doing is assisting our partners in the region, the neighbours of Syria, to ensure that they're prepared to account for the potential spillover effects," Gen Dempsey said during a Pentagon briefing on Wednesday. "As you know, we've just taken a decision to leave some Patriot missile batteries and some F-16s in Jordan as part of the defence of Jordan. We're working with our Iraqi counterparts, the Lebanese Armed Forces and Turkey through Nato."

He said that as he looked at the challenges being faced by Syria's neighbours, including the re-emergence of Al Qaeda in Iraq, he determined that the US should help them build up their military abilities. He said the assistance would not involve sending US combat troops into Lebanon or Iraq.

The US last week left about a dozen F-16 fighter jets in Jordan, where they will be flying and conducting training operations. The Pentagon also left a Patriot missile battery there, bringing the total number of American forces in Jordan to about 1,000.

US officials said the increased show of military might in Jordan was a signal to Syria that it must confine its civil war within its borders. The officials said it is meant to show that the US was committed to its defence relationship with Jordan and that America intended to maintain a strong presence in the region.

Gen Dempsey and the defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, declined to provide any additional information about US plans to provide weapons to Syrian rebels, other than to say that the US military has no role so far in that programme.

According to officials, the CIA was coordinating the effort to arm the rebel groups.