BEIRUT (AP) — The Lebanese army on Wednesday conducted a live-fire demonstration of advanced missiles supplied by the United States to help combat Islamic extremists along the country's volatile border with Syria.
U.S. Ambassador David Hale said the demonstration at a Lebanese army base in the eastern Baalbek region comes after the delivery in late May of over 200 TOW-II missiles and dozens of launchers valued at over $10 million.
The equipment is jointly financed by Saudi Arabia and the U.S., he said.
Islamic extremists have launched several attacks on Lebanese troops over the past two years, particularly in areas near the Syrian border, killing and wounding scores of soldiers. The most serious attack occurred in August, when members of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and the Islamic State group captured two dozen Lebanese soldiers. They have killed four of them and still hold the rest.
The Shiite Lebanese Hezbollah group — labelled as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government — also is fighting the Sunni extremists in the border region.
"We are absolutely committed to making sure that the army has the capacity to be the sole defender of Lebanese territory and its borders," Hale said. "This is a long term commitment and we will stand by Lebanon's side in this regard until these terrorists are defeated."
The anti-tank guided missiles are part of weapons and ammunition shipments that have arrived in Beirut in batches this year. A U.S. Embassy statement said America has provided the Lebanese armed forces with $82.5 million worth of weapons and ammunition since August 2014.
Hale told reporters in February that Lebanon has become the fifth-largest recipient of U.S. foreign military assistance.
The Lebanese military is generally seen as a unifying force in Lebanon, and draws its ranks from all of the country's sects — Sunni and Shiite Muslim, Christian and Druze. But the armed forces have struggled to contain the escalating violence in the country.