BEIRUT (AP) — The United States has delivered its first emergency shipment of weapons to Lebanon, officials said Friday, to help bolster military forces as part of a broader regional response to combat the growing threat posed by Islamic extremists.
The delivery is in response to a request by the Lebanese government after a sudden cross-border attack by militants from Syria into the Lebanese town of Arsal earlier this month, where soldiers were killed and kidnapped in the most serious spillover of violence into the tiny country from the neighboring civil war.
The new weapons were displayed at the Beirut military air base on Friday after arriving overnight. A sample of the weapons — mortars, M16-A4 assault rifles and anti-tank missiles — were placed on a white satin-covered table with camouflage netting.
"This is just the latest in a series of deliveries that have arrived in the last 36 hours," said U.S. ambassador David Hale at the air base. Hale said the U.S. had so far delivered 480 anti-tank guided missiles, over 1,500 M16-A4 rifles, and mortars. "More mortars, grenade launchers, machine guns, and anti-tank weapons will be arriving," he said.
After Hale spoke, a U.S. military aircraft that landed at the air base was opened to reveal wooden boxes full of weaponry. "This aircraft is full, chock-full!" said Antonio Banchs, defense attache to the U.S. embassy, as he surveyed the goods.
While the cross-border attack into the Lebanese town of Arsal was the impetus for the sudden infusion of U.S. weapons, it comes as part of a still-forming regional response to combatting the Islamic State group, whose militants have carved out a territory sweeping from the Turkish border across northern Syria into Iraq.
The U.S. has also announced it would bolster Kurdish forces with new weapons as they try to fend off advances by the Islamic State group into their largely-autonomous regions of northern Iraq. The U.S. is also now conducting airstrikes to push back the extremists in northern and western Iraq, its first military involvement in years.
The U.S. is also mulling airstrikes into Syria, which would be the first direct American military involvement into the three-year-old Syrian conflict.