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The White House

Remarks By The Vice President At The Announcement Of The U.S. Shipment Of Equipment To The Lebanese Armed Forces

 Office of the Vice President
For Immediate Release             May 22, 2009
Rafic Hariri International Airport
Beirut, Lebanon
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.  Please be seated.
Mr. Minister, General, it's a delight to be back in Lebanon, and thank you for the warm welcome.  General, we're going to leave some of this behind, but you cannot take my plane.  Air Force Two I get to keep, and the helicopters I get to keep.  Other than that, the rest is going to be yours.
It's an honor, it's a genuine honor to be here today in the company of two of Lebanon's genuine patriots -- and I mean that sincerely -- and to convey our support once again for the Lebanese armed forces.  I speak not only as Vice President but I speak on behalf of the United States Congress but, most importantly, the President of the United States, President Obama, because we believe it's critical that you be able to have -- be able to do your mission to defend the state and the citizens of Lebanon -- one army, one armed group, one police power, one capability to control your whole country.
Just two days ago you marked a bitter but proud anniversary for the Lebanese army.  On May 20, 2007, Fatah al-Islam killed 27 of your soldiers in a brazen attack outside of a refugee camp.  Your army responded bravely, forcefully, and professionally to ensure that camp residents were not harmed.  You overcame shortages of manpower and materiel.  The army fought three grueling months, displaying uncommon dedication and earning a decisive victory.  The victory came at a heavy cost:  170 soldiers lost their lives and hundreds more were wounded.  I am here today on behalf of my country to honor that sacrifice and that of your families on behalf of your country.
I'm also here to assure you that every member of the Lebanese army -- every member of the Lebanese army -- that the United States of America considers itself a partner in your effort to defend your sovereignty -- the sovereignty of the Lebanese state and the security of all the people of Lebanon.  That's why, since 2005, the United States has committed more than a half a billion dollars to provide training and equipment, and why we've sat with you and Secretary Gates has talked about a multi-year plan. 
And that's why we continue to support you.  As I said to the President today, a free and democratic Lebanon hinges on the strength of your national institutions.  The Lebanese Armed Forces are as vital a national institution as any other in this country, arguably more vital.  We know how much the Lebanese people look to you to protect their interests.
Some have questioned whether our support for your armed forces is as strong as we claim it to be.  They wonder, they wonder when we would provide heavy equipment like tanks.  Well, let me be clear:  We are committing -- we are committed to meeting your army's needs and determined that those needs are going to be met in close consultation with your army's leadership.
During the summer of 2007, the army asked for ammunition so your troops could keep firing, body armor so your troops could be protected, and for specialized weapons so your troops could hit their targets without exposing themselves unnecessarily to danger.  And that's exactly what we've provided:  42 plane loads of ammunition, in fact. 
But we also learned from that fight that you needed more.  You needed more.  And you can see around you examples of the equipment recently delivered, begun to be delivered to meet your needs:  modern M60 battle tanks, close air support aircraft armed with Hellfire-guided missiles, M198 howitzers, and Raven unmanned aerial vehicles.
You can also see the items we've provided to the Lebanese army forces over the years, including Humvees, M113 armored personnel carriers, UH1 "Huey" helicopters, in addition to the equipment we plan to continue as long as you wish it; robust training programs in the priority areas identified by your army, Mr. Minister, and by your leadership.
These training programs, including the United States Special Forces, are part of a comprehensive U.S. military assistance effort with Lebanon.  To anyone who questions America's commitment to your defense, I say, look around you.  Look around me.  The United States is committed to Lebanon.  The United States is committed to Lebanon's armed forces.  The United States, although speaking with others in the area to try to resolve many of the problems in the region, is absolutely committed to the sovereignty of the people of Lebanon and the government of Lebanon.  And we are committed to playing a central role, to the extent you wish us to do so, in guaranteeing that sovereignty for a democratic Lebanon. 
So Mr. Minister, I thank you for your leadership.  General, I thank you, as well.  I'll end where I began:  You are two Lebanese patriots.  We are confident, as I'm sure the people of your country are, of providing you with what you need to protect their interests.  Thank you very much, Mr. Minister.  (Applause.)