Lebanese army launches Arsal operation, retakes ISIS positions

By Tamer Abu Zaid in Beirut

Lebanon's army launched operation Fajr al-Juroud on August 19th to retake the mountainous areas along the Syria border from the 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria'. [Photo courtesy of the Lebanese Army's Guidance Directorate]

Lebanon's army launched operation Fajr al-Juroud on August 19th to retake the mountainous areas along the Syria border from the 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria'. [Photo courtesy of the Lebanese Army's Guidance Directorate]

A massive operation to drive the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) from a mountainous area along the Lebanon-Syria borer entered its third day on Monday (August 21st), with the Lebanese army already capturing two-thirds of the territory that was held by the extremists.

Army chief Gen. Joseph Aoun on Saturday at dawn announced the launch of Operation Fajr al-Juroud (Al-Juroud Dawn) in al-Qaa and Ras Baalbek against ISIS.

Minutes after the launch of the operation, Lebanese President Michel Aoun visited the army's Operations Room at the Ministry of Defence, where he was briefed on the progress of military operations.

"We are looking forward to a victory," Aoun told field commanders in a phone call, according to a statement released by the presidency.

The army has so far captured two-thirds of the Lebanese territory that was held by ISIS, Lebanese military spokesman Col. Fadi Boueid said, noting that on Sunday alone, troops captured 30 square kilometres.

He said that military experts are dismantling explosives left behind by ISIS, and the army destroyed 12 militant positions in the border area, Annahar reported.

On Sunday, a bomb struck one of the advancing armoured vehicles, killing three soldiers and critically wounding another.

Meanwhile, army troops were able to destroy a vehicle and a motorcycle driven by ISIS suicide bombers before they could hit their targets, Boueid said, adding that at least 15 militants were killed as a result of fighting and bombardment.

There is no timetable upon which the operation is scheduled to end, as it will continue "until we wipe out ISIS inside Lebanese territory," he said.

'Not afraid'

"ISIS has divided the areas under its control into sections similar to provinces," chief military spokesman Brig. Gen. Ali Qanso said in a press conference Saturday.

"ISIS controls about 120 square kilometres," he said, noting that "those areas have been besieged for a year, and we have been tightening the noose on them for two weeks".

The militants are "equipped with sniper rifles, motorcycles, and anti-aircraft weapons. They also have 105mm rockets and anti-armour rockets, but they have not so far targeted any towns", he said.

The number of ISIS elements on Lebanese soil is estimated to be around 600, Qanso said. They are divided into three platoons -- in the north, juroud Ras Baalbek and juroud al-Qaa.

"The terrorist group has the ability to move fast, launch sniper attacks, and target the military forces with vehicles packed with explosives and terrorists," he said.

"The Lebanese army, meanwhile, is attacking from the bottom upwards," he added.

Qanso stressed that the army was not co-ordinating its moves with Hizbullah or the Syrian army.

"We are not afraid of the battle. We will win no matter the sacrifices. Victory against ISIS is our goal and knowing the fate of our [kidnapped] soldiers is our priority," he said.

Widespread support

Social media websites teemed with posts in support of the Lebanese army. Many Lebanese citizens posted pictures saluting the army’s courage.

"We stand with our heroic army in its battle to defeat terrorism and liberate the land occupied by ISIS terrorists in juroud Ras Baalbek and al-Qaa," MP Amal Abu Zaid told Al-Mashareq.

"With the launch of Operation Fajr al-Juroud, a new dawn will arise, a dawn of security, liberation and state sovereignty," he said.

MP Walid Jumblatt tweeted, "I wish the Lebanese army all success in the operation to liberate the juroud from the terrorists for the sake of Lebanon’s safety and democratic system, which is key."

Kataeb Party chief Samy Gemayel said, "Our hearts rejoice when we see our army doing its role in full. The army is confirming to those who have doubts that it is capable of winning many battles."

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