Lebanese army lacks firepower and experience to keep situation under control

Top foreign diplomats on Wednesday planned the dispatch of a 15,000-strong international force to enforce a cease-fire in southern Lebanon, but the government was divided over whether Hezbollah should lay down its arms or even withdraw them from the border with Israel .

Hezbollah, meanwhile, said it would help tens of thousands of people reconstruct homes that were destroyed in a month of war with Israel, a move likely to boost its standing among Shiite Muslims, who make up about 35 percent of Lebanon 's 4 million people, the AP reports.

The Lebanese army, which is preparing to dispatch 15,000 troops to the south on Thursday, counts 60,000 active soldiers but lacks significant firepower and fighting experience, experts say.

According to the "The Military Balance", an annual report published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, the army numbers about 70,000 troops, including reservists.

However, most are more police officers than soldiers. At most 25,000 or so have experience from the 1975-1990 civil war and the army is considered more of a peacekeeping force than an offensive one.

Even so, experts say the troops could play an important role helping to maintain security in southern Lebanon along with a planned international force once Israeli forces withdraw, turkishpress.com reports.

The Lebanese army has 310 main battle tanks, mainly old Soviet-made T-54s and T-55s, 24 helicopters, 1,257 armored personnel carriers and 541 artillery pieces.

There is also a paramilitary force of 13,000 men, an air force of 1,100 and still smaller navy of around 1,000.

When Israeli troops pulled out of south Lebanon in 2000 after a 22-year occupation, Lebanese troops did not deploy to the border.

Source: agencies

Prepared by Alexander Timoshik

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Author`s name Alex Naumov