- The Trump administration quietly released $105 million in military aid to Lebanon amid rising criticism and concern from US lawmakers and both current and former US officials.
- The military aid was placed under a mysterious hold for months, with no explanation.
- Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and recently traveled to Lebanon, said there was “no legitimate security rationale to withhold funding.”
- Lebanon is experiencing widespread unrest and the Lebanese Armed Forces is widely viewed as one of the only entities that can help keep the peace and protect demonstrators.
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The Trump administration has released millions in military aid to Lebanon after placing a mysterious hold on the funds, which prompted criticism from lawmakers and former US officials.
The aid was released right before Thanksgiving and lawmakers were notified on Monday, two congressional staffers and an administration official told the Associated Press.
The $105 million in Foreign Military Funding for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) was approved by Congress and had strong support within the Pentagon, State Department, and National Security Council, but was placed on hold for months.
The White House has not responded to multiple requests for comment from Insider.
The nebulous freeze on the military aid was mentioned in the testimony of an impeachment inquiry witness last month. David Hale, one of the top officials in the State Department who served as US ambassador to Lebanon from 2013 until 2015, in testimony to House impeachment investigators signaled that the hold on the aid to Lebanon goes back to late June.
Hale said this was around the time he “first started to hear that there was a problem” with the roughly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine, which was frozen by the Trump administration over the summer and released on September 11.
“I learned from a member of my staff, I believe, and the aid package to Lebanon was also being held in the same fashion,” Hale said. “So, you know, people started asking: What’s the problem?”
Hale, the third highest ranking official in the State Department, told House investigators he had “not received an explanation for hold on the Lebanese assistance program.”
‘There was no legitimate security rationale to withhold funding’
Lebanon is currently experiencing political unrest linked to mass discontentment with the country’s political system and economy, and the LAF is widely seen as one of the only entities capable of preventing the situation from becoming more chaotic than it already is. The LAF is also seen as an important buffer against Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Shiite Muslim militant group and political party that’s considered a terrorist group by the US.
In this context, another former US ambassador to Lebanon, Jeffrey Feltman, in testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee last month warned of the potential benefits to Iran and Russia from withholding the military funding to Lebanon.
“The military assistance now under review should be rapidly released,” Feltman said to House lawmakers last month. “At a time when the LAF’s popularity is trending mostly upwards compared to what appears to be Hezbollah’s reputational decline, we can reinforce what is, for us and for Lebanon, a positive momentum.”
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and recently traveled to Lebanon, in a series of tweets last week slammed President Donald Trump for freezing the aid to Lebanon. Murphy compared the situation to Trump’s hold on security assistance to Ukraine, warning that doing so could benefit US adversaries while harming important partners.
—Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) November 26, 2019
In a statement provided to Insider by the senator’s office on Monday, Murphy said: “My trip to Lebanon confirmed that we must continue investing in the LAF, and I’m relieved that reports indicate these critical funds have been released.”
Murphy added: “There was no legitimate security rationale to withhold funding, and lots of reasons why withholding aid would actually hurt US interests. But the administration alarmingly decided to delay these funds without explanation and did so at the worst possible time.”
The Connecticut senator said that in contrast to violent responses to other protests in the region, such as the deadly crackdowns on demonstrations in Iraq and Iran, the LAF has “stepped up to protect demonstrators and defend the democratic rights of Lebanese citizens.” Murphy said the LAF “deserve our respect and strong support at this critical moment.”