US reroutes $72M in aid for wages for Lebanese army, police

US reroutes $72M in aid for wages for Lebanese army, police
The United States is rerouting $72 million of America's assistance to Lebanon to help the cash-strapped government pay wages of its soldiers and police officers. (Lebanese Army Website via AP)
Short Url
Updated 25 January 2023

US reroutes $72M in aid for wages for Lebanese army, police

US reroutes $72M in aid for wages for Lebanese army, police
  • It is the first time the US is allocating funds for wages of security personnel in Lebanon
  • Lebanese leaders, deep in political deadlock, have failed at implementing economic reforms to make the country viable again

BEIRUT: The United States is rerouting $72 million of America’s assistance to Lebanon to help the country’s cash-strapped government boost wages of its soldiers and police officers, the US ambassador said Wednesday.
Washington is a key donor of the Lebanese Army and its 80,000 members, providing over $3 billion in military aid since 2006. The announcement Wednesday is the first time the US is allocating funds for wages of security personnel in Lebanon.
Lebanon is struggling with an unprecedented economic crisis, one that the World Bank says is among the worst worldwide since the 1850s. Three-quarters of the population live in poverty, while the Lebanese pound has lost over 90 percent of its value against the dollar.
Lebanese leaders, deep in political deadlock, have failed at implementing economic reforms to make the country viable again. The economic meltdown has also impoverished Lebanese soldiers and members of the police — two forces that have been rare unifiers in a country deeply divided by sectarian politics. Their inability to pay viable wages and feed their personnel has threatened Lebanon’s overall security and stability.
Before the crisis, an enlisted soldier earned the equivalent of about $800 a month, but that has now dropped to just over $100 due to the devaluation of the pound. A higher-ranking officer’s monthly salary is now worth around $250.
Many security personnel and troops have subsequently left the service or taken up second jobs while the Lebanese Army has resorted to unorthodox fundraising tactics to cover expenses such as offering paid helicopter rides and charging high fees for journalist permits.
The US State Department notified Congress last January of its intention to redirect the funds for military and police wages. Some Republicans in Congress have called for eliminating military aid to Lebanon altogether, citing the growing political power of Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah.
Unlike some other US programs that have covered full wages of allied troops, the assistance announced Wednesday by US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea is a one-time action.
It will provide every Lebanese soldier and police officer with an extra $100 a month on top of their wages for the next six months, to soften the blow of the economic crisis. The United Nations Development Program will disburse the funds.
Shea, Lebanon army chief Gen. Joseph Aoun, police chief Maj. Gen. Imad Osman, and the UNDP’s representative to Lebanon, Melanie Hauenstein, announced the aid at a press conference.
“Given these circumstances, we were forced to raise our voice, loudly, and have appealed to the international community for their support and assistance, and this is due to the lack of local solutions,” Aoun said. “The current crisis and its impact might be the most dangerous the Lebanese Army has faced to date.”
Osman admitted that the financial crisis has “impacted the performance” of security personnel.
Shea, meanwhile, renewed calls for the Lebanese government to end the ongoing political paralysis and implement economic reforms that Lebanon has agreed to with the International Monetary Fund.
“Due to the temporary nature of this assistance ... it is incumbent on Lebanon’s leaders to use this time to bring to fruition an IMF program,” Shea said.
Lebanese authorities in April 2022 reached a tentative agreement with the IMF for a recovery plan conditional on a host of economic reforms and anti-corruption measures, but has been sluggish in meeting those demands.
The Lebanese army and security agencies have especially been strained since the economic crisis erupted in late 2019, from having to respond to countrywide mass protests, distribute aid following the massive Beirut Port blast in August 2020 and donate their fuel to hospitals.
“State security forces have essentially been doing more with less, above all because the currency collapse has eviscerated the value of the remuneration they all receive,” said Anthony Elghossain, an adviser at the Newlines Institute think tank in Washington.


Iran unveils underground base for fighter jets

Iran unveils underground base for fighter jets
Updated 11 sec ago

Iran unveils underground base for fighter jets

Iran unveils underground base for fighter jets
  • Base can accommodate ‘all types of fighter jets and bombers, in addition to drones’

TEHRAN: Iran’s army on Tuesday unveiled its first underground base for fighter jets designed to withstand possible strikes by US bunker-busting bombs, state media reported.

The base — named Oghab 44 (“Eagle” in Persian) — can accommodate “all types of fighter jets and bombers, in addition to drones,” the official news agency IRNA said, releasing images and videos from inside the base.

The exact location of the base was not revealed, but state media said it was “at the depth of hundreds of meters under the mountains,” and capable of withstanding “bombs by strategic US bombers.”

In May last year, Iran’s army revealed an air force base for drones under the Zagros mountain range in the west of the country.

The latest unveiling comes the day before Iran marks Air Force Day, part of the buildup to the 44th anniversary on Saturday of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

State media on Tuesday showed Iran’s armed forces chief of staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri and the army’s commander-in-chief Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi at the new base.

Oghab 44 is “one of numerous tactical underground air bases for the army’s air force built in different areas of the country in recent years,” IRNA reported.

It can prepare fighter jets to “counter possible offensives” such as those practiced by the US and Israel in their recent military drill, according to state media.

Iran has mostly Russian MiG and Sukhoi fighter jets that date back to the Soviet era, as well as some Chinese aircraft, including the F-7.

Some American F-4 and F-5 fighter jets dating back to before the revolution are also part of its fleet.


First Kuwaiti flight carrying aid for earthquake victims takes off for Turkiye

First Kuwaiti flight carrying aid for earthquake victims takes off for Turkiye
Updated 41 min 10 sec ago

First Kuwaiti flight carrying aid for earthquake victims takes off for Turkiye

First Kuwaiti flight carrying aid for earthquake victims takes off for Turkiye
  • The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is coordinating the aid effort, with the Kuwaiti army responsible for transporting aid workers, machinery and equipment

KUWAIT: The first flight from Kuwait carrying aid took off on Tuesday for Turkiye as part of the relief effort to help the victims of the massive earthquake that struck the country in the early hours of Monday, the Kuwait News Agency reported.
Thousands died in disaster and many more were injured or left homeless, with southern Turkiye and northern Syria the worst-affected areas. Rescue teams were racing against time on Tuesday to find and rescue victims trapped in the rubble of damaged buildings.
Kuwait’s relief effort is operating under the directives of Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is coordinating the aid, with the Kuwaiti army responsible for transporting aid workers, machinery and equipment. The Red Crescent and the Ministry of Health are also participating.
Lt. Gen. Khaled Al-Mekrad, the director general of the Kuwait Fire Force, and Tuba Nur Sonmez, the Turkish ambassador to Kuwait, watched the flight take off.


UK tells tourists to avoid Turkiye quake epicenter

UK tells tourists to avoid Turkiye quake epicenter
Updated 07 February 2023

UK tells tourists to avoid Turkiye quake epicenter

UK tells tourists to avoid Turkiye quake epicenter
  • No travel guidance issued against visiting rest of the country
  • Flights by British carriers continue as normal to Turkish airports outside affected area

LONDON: The UK Foreign Office has advised British travelers against visiting southeastern parts of Turkiye in the aftermath of the three earthquakes that hit the country on Monday.
It did not issue specific guidance not to travel to the country, but told people to check with their airlines if they already had flights booked to avoid being disrupted by cancelations.
The three airports closest to the epicenter — at Gazientep, Hatay and Ceyhan — are currently closed to commercial flights.
There are also no flights currently from the UK to Adana, which is 220 km west of Gazientep.
However, flights to popular tourist destinations such as Istanbul, Bodrum and Dalaman have not been canceled, and Adana can be reached via internal flights from western Turkish airports.
Turkish newspaper the Daily Sabah reported: “Currently, only planes carrying aid and rescue teams are allowed to land and take off from (Gazientep and Ceyhan).
“Hatay Airport, whose runway was damaged because of the earthquake, was closed for all flights.”
As of this time, no British operators have canceled flights to Turkiye outside of the region affected.
Hugh Fraser, founder of Corinthian Travel, told the Daily Mail: “Southeastern Turkiye and the area in the vicinity of Gaziantep has many spectacular attractions and is noted for its delicious regional cuisine, but has traditionally been the preserve of the second or third-time cultural visitors to Turkiye.
“The earthquake is a human tragedy but it is unlikely to have much impact on Turkiye’s major centers of tourism — Istanbul, Cappadocia, and the Aegean Coast — all of which are located hundreds of miles away to the west.”
So far, over 5,000 people are confirmed to have died in the disaster in Turkiye and neighboring Syria, with tens of thousands injured and homeless.
The World Health Organization has said the death toll could rise to as high as 20,000, with people left exposed to sub-zero temperatures.
UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: “The UK is sending immediate support to Turkiye, including a team of 76 search and rescue specialists, equipment and rescue dogs.
“In Syria, the UK-funded White Helmets have mobilized their resources to respond. We stand ready to provide further support as needed.”


‘Everyone has been impacted’: UK charity describes ‘race against time’ to find survivors

‘Everyone has been impacted’: UK charity describes ‘race against time’ to find survivors
Updated 07 February 2023

‘Everyone has been impacted’: UK charity describes ‘race against time’ to find survivors

‘Everyone has been impacted’: UK charity describes ‘race against time’ to find survivors
  • Devastation “beyond words,” says Action For Humanity CEO

LONDON: Rescuers and aid organizations face a “race against time” to find survivors of Monday's deadly earthquake in Turkiye and Syria and bring assistance to those in most need, a British charity said on Tuesday.

Following the two 7.8 and 7.5-magnitude earthquakes that wrought devastation in both countries, Action For Humanity, the parent charity of the UK’s largest Syria-focused NGO Syria Relief, released a statement describing the devastation impacting the lives of everyone in the areas worst hit. 

Two members of their own staff, a medical professional and a monitoring evaluation and learning (MEAL) manager in Idlib, Syria, were killed with members of their family.

Dozens of other staff have lost family members and “everyone has been impacted,” the statement said.

“The devastation is beyond words, virtually every village in Northwest Syria, and every life has been impacted,” Othman Moqbel, CEO for Action For Humanity said. “Two of our own team, the Action For Humanity family, were killed — a medical professional and a member of our MEAL team in Syria — people motivated to do all they can to save the lives of Syrians, lost theirs to this tragedy,” he added.

He continued: “They were killed alongside family members. Also dozens of our team have lost parents, cousins, uncles, aunties, nephews and nieces. Their lives have been ripped apart.

“Across Syria, traumatised families have been spending spent 30 hours out in freezing cold as they are afraid to stay in buildings that are at risk of collapsing. They fear more earthquakes. The death toll rises by the minute.

“We are in a race against time to find survivors and provide warmth, food, shelter and medical aid.”

Moqbel also said it was vital that governments, but also members of the global public, help to support the emergency response.

“Syria is suffering from being underfunded and forgotten throughout nearly 12 years of war,” he said. 

“There was no hospital capacity already before this week, just suffering, there was not enough food before this week, just poverty, after neglecting Syrians for so long, we owe it to do all we can to help them. 

“We have mobilized staff to provide emergency aid and are working with our peers to provide a coordinated emergency response — which is so vital in times of large scale humanitarian need like this,” he added.

Action For Humanity has launched an emergency appeal, raising funds for items such as emergency holistic kits, support for the medical facilities, fuel and temporary collective shelter for those made homeless by the disaster.

It also deploying its mobile health clinics to support those impacted on site and health systems already under strain.


3 Britons missing in Turkiye after deadly quakes

3 Britons missing in Turkiye after deadly quakes
Updated 07 February 2023

3 Britons missing in Turkiye after deadly quakes

3 Britons missing in Turkiye after deadly quakes
  • UK FM: ‘We assess that the likelihood of large-scale British casualties remains low’
  • PM Rishi Sunak: ‘The UK stands ready to help in whatever way we can’

LONDON: Three British nationals are missing in Turkiye following Monday’s series of earthquakes, and the UK Foreign Office is providing support to at least 35 Britons affected by the disaster, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said on Tuesday.

The earthquakes struck southern Turkiye and northern Syria, killing at least 5,000 people. More than 6,000 buildings collapsed due to the shockwaves, with vital electricity and gas infrastructure damaged amid freezing winter temperatures.

“We assess that the likelihood of large-scale British casualties remains low,” Cleverly told the UK Parliament. “The Turkish government has declared a state of emergency and they are requesting international assistance on a scale that matches the enormity of the situation that they are facing.”

The UK has already authorized the deployment of a medical assessment team, Cleverly said, adding: “The further stages of requirement will evolve over time. We will, of course, work closely with our international partners to make sure we address that.

“Many of the 3.5 million Syrian refugees hosted by Turkiye reside in the affected provinces. Turkiye’s outstanding disaster relief response capability has been severely tested by the sheer scale of this catastrophe.”

He said: “Turkiye will lead the disaster relief response in the areas of Syria where it has the presence.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared 10 provinces in the country as disaster zones.

On Tuesday, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “The UK stands ready to help in whatever way we can.”