US to top up Lebanon army, police salaries for six months

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The United States announced Wednesday $72 million in aid to crisis-hit Lebanon to supplement security personnel salaries for six months, in a joint program with the United Nations.

Lebanon’s economy has been in free fall for three years, resulting in slashed military budget and eating away at the value of soldiers’ salaries.

Washington, which has long been the biggest donor to Lebanon’s army, has partnered with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to enable the delivery of the first US aid of its kind.

The program “will provide $72 million in temporary financial support for Lebanese Armed Forces and Internal Security Forces personnel,” the UN agency and US embassy in Beirut said in a joint statement.

The UNDP will disburse it through a local service provider, it added.

“These payments will provide every soldier and police officer eligible to receive assistance under US law with $100 per month for a period of six months,” the statement said.

An average monthly salary for a low-ranking Lebanese soldier is now worth roughly $50, down from about $800 before the 2019 economic crisis.

US ambassador Dorothy Shea said this was “the first time the United States has ever provided such financial support to security forces in Lebanon,” according to the statement.

The United States will repurpose “a significant portion of our security assistance to support hard-working men and women… with critical funds to put food on the table for themselves and their families,” she added.

Army commander Gen. Joseph Aoun said in a statement the aid package proves the international community “will not allow Lebanon’s collapse on the security front.”

Energy-rich Qatar announced last year $60 million in aid for Lebanon’s cash-strapped armed forces, with a security source telling AFP at the time it would cover soldiers’ wages.

Since 2019, the local currency lost 95 percent of its market value, forcing hundreds of members security forces personnel to defect while many have sought side jobs.

At one point in 2020, Lebanon’s army said it had scrapped meat from the meals offered to on-duty soldiers due to rising food prices. And in June 2021, it said it would sell tourists helicopter rides in a bid to boost its coffers.

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