The Trump administration has frozen all military aid to the Lebanese army, including a package worth $105 million that both the State Department and Congress approved in September, congressional officials said Friday, The New York Times (NYT) reported.
The halt to American funding of the Lebanese Armed Forces comes at a critical time for Lebanon, as officials are grappling with the country’s largest street protests since its independence in 1943 and a change in leadership forced by the demonstrations.
A freeze on the assistance could give Iran and Russia an opening to exert greater influence over the Lebanese military, analysts say, and perhaps even allow the Islamic State and Al Qaeda to gain greater footholds in the country.
The Pentagon and State Department pressed for the aid for the Lebanese Armed Forces, congressional aides said, and officials in both departments say the military organization is an important bulwark against extremist elements and armed factions of Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Shiite group that has political and military wings.
But officials on the national security staff at the White House recently asked the Office of Management and Budget to freeze all aid to the Lebanese military, two congressional officials said Friday. Officials at the State Department and Pentagon only learned of the halt in recent days. It is unclear if anyone has told the Lebanese government of the freeze.
The State Department referred questions about the freeze to the budget office, which did not have immediate comment, and the Defense Department referred questions to the White House, where officials declined to comment.
Congressional aides got confirmation of the freeze on Thursday, and Reuters reported. Congressional officials were surprised, since State Department officials notified Congress on 05 September that the United States was moving ahead with a $105 million package of aid to the Lebanese military.
The package is known as foreign military financing, which is major aid that is usually managed by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), part of the Defense Department.