Lebanon Too Broke To Pay Soldiers Enough, Army Warns Ahead Of Donor Meet

Channels Television  
Updated June 16, 2021
(FILES) In this file photo taken on April 28, 2020 Lebanese army reinforcements arrive in the northern port city of Tripoli during clashes with protesters as anger over a spiralling economic crisis re-energised a months-old anti-government movement in defiance of a coronavirus lockdown.  (Photo by Ibrahim CHALHOUB / AFP)


Lebanon’s military needs aid to help its soldiers survive the financial crisis, an army source warned Wednesday, ahead of a UN-backed donor conference to shore up one of the bankrupt country’s key institutions.

Unlike previous conferences designed to provide training, weapons or equipment for Lebanon’s armed forces, the virtual meeting hosted by France on Thursday aims to offer the kind of humanitarian assistance usually reserved for countries grappling with conflict or natural disaster.

“We are in need of food parcels, healthcare assistance” and other support that comes on top of soldiers’ pay, a military source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“The devaluation of the Lebanese pound is affecting soldiers and they are in need of support. Their salaries are not enough anymore.”

Lebanon’s economic crisis, which the World Bank has labelled as one of the world’s worst since the 1850s, has seen the local currency lose more than 90 percent of its value on the black market.

The crisis has eaten away at the value of soldiers’ salaries and slashed the military’s budget for maintenance and equipment, further threatening the country’s stability.

A regular soldier earns around 1.2 million Lebanese pounds a month — $800 at the official exchange rate, but only about $80 on the black market.

Already towards the middle of last year, the army said it had scrapped meat from the meals offered to on-duty soldiers, due to rising food prices.

– Milk, flour, medicine –
“We are doing the impossible to ease the suffering and the economic woes of our soldiers,” army chief Joseph Aoun said in a speech on Tuesday.

“We are forced to turn to allied states to secure aid, and I am ready to go to the end of the world to procure assistance so that the army can stay on its feet.”

Around 20 countries, including the United States, several EU member states, Gulf countries, Russia, and China have been invited to take part in the conference alongside UN representatives.

It follows a visit by Aoun last month to Paris, where he warned that the army could face even darker days without emergency support.

“The Lebanese army is going through a major crisis, which could get worse due to the deteriorating economic and social situation in Lebanon, which may worsen when subsidies are lifted,” he said.

He was referring to a government plan to scrap subsidies on essential goods such as fuel, food and flour to shore up dwindling foreign currency reserves.

A source close to French Defence Minister Florence Parly said Wednesday that the crisis was alarming as the Lebanese military is the “key institution” maintaining security in the country.

The army has highlighted “very specific needs” for milk, flour, medicine, fuel, and spare parts for maintenance, the source said.

– ‘Morale is low’ –
Aram Nerguizian, an expert on the Lebanese army at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Carnegie Middle East Center, said the military had already lost more than 3,000 members since 2019, dropping to a force of 80,874 at the start of this year.

“Morale is low, officers are increasingly demoralised,” he told AFP.

Nerguizian said donors could provide “in-kind assistance that helps LAF (army) personnel gain access to staple goods they would otherwise spend their now-severely diminished salaries on,” such as food, fuel, and medicine.

But aid that supports salaries is “more difficult”.

“For most of the LAF’s Western partners, there are laws and mechanisms in place specifically not to have aid used in that way,” Nerguizian said.

“Those systems are in place to prevent corruption, nepotism, and a twisted form of dependence on foreign aid for the current portion of national defence spending.”

The United States remains the biggest financial backer of the Lebanese military, and has bumped up funding for the army by $15 million for this year to $120 million.

France, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey are among the army’s main food donors, while Iraq and Spain have offered medical assistance.