France helps Lebanese forces de-mine Arsal

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut


A sign warns of the danger of mines in the eastern border town of Arsal. [Photo courtesy of the Lebanese Army’s Directorate of Guidance]

As part of its commitment to supporting regional stability, France has been working with the Lebanese army to address the issue of mines and explosives left behind by extremist groups in areas near the Lebanon-Syria border.

The Regional School for Humanitarian De-mining in Lebanon (RSHDL) was opened with French support, and with backing from the European Union, a few months after the August 2017 conclusion of Operation Fajr al-Juroud.

The school offers both military and civilian personnel training on the safe removal of mines and explosives.

After the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) and other extremists were ousted from border areas, the Lebanese Mine Action Centre surveyed the area in co-operation with international organisations and with US and EU support.


The Regional School for Humanitarian De-mining in Lebanon, established with French support, teaches military personnel and civilians how to safely remove mines and explosives. [Photo courtesy of the Lebanese Army’s Directorate of Guidance]


A Lebanese army team trained by French experts displays explosives planted by ISIS that they removed from the area around Arsal. [Photo courtesy of the Regional School for Humanitarian De-mining in Lebanon]

"Arsal, Ras Baalbek and al-Qaa, with a combined area of 1.3 million square kilometres, were found to be littered with improvised explosive devices (IEDs), mines and cluster bombs," a military source told Al-Mashareq.

The process of clearing the area began in March as part of a joint Lebanese-French military effort, said the source, who asked to remain anonymous.

Mine removal training

RSHDL opened in the Saad al-Khatib barracks in Hammana, Mount Lebanon, as part of a French initiative, "under the supervision of a French officer acting as an advisor to the school head", the source said.

Military personnel and members of local and international organisations operating in Lebanon and the region receive training at the school on all mine-related work, including de-mining, educating the public and helping victims.

Additionally, commissioned and non-commissioned officers are teaching civilians how to clear mines according to international standards, in co-operation with the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian De-mining (GICHD).

In conjunction with these efforts, the French government is supporting the efforts of the Humanitarian De-mining Action project, which has conducted mine removal work in various parts of Lebanon.

The project works with civil society organisations operating under the supervision of the RSHDL.

It also has been "conducting a massive awareness campaign for the past six months under the supervision of the RSHDL in the Arsal and Ras Baalbek areas directed at all residents and refugees", the source said.

Efforts to stabilize Lebanon

Lebanese-French military co-operation on the removal of mines in the border area is manifest in the establishment of the RSHDL, said Brig. Gen. Maroun Hitti, who advises Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri on security affairs.

According to the Lebanese Mine Action Centre's survey, ISIS left behind more than 2,000 explosive devices, he told Al-Mashareq.

The French military is helping the Lebanese Engineering Regiment’s officers to safely remove explosives found in the border area by teaching them advanced mine-removal techniques, he said.

The training focuses on how to clear explosives from the areas in which ISIS was present, as well as passageways the group had mined and booby trapped, "not only in the areas of operations but also around the town of Arsal", he said.

"Since Operation Fajr al-Juroud, the French have made tremendous efforts, in co-operation with the Lebanese army, to de-mine the area and positions that were occupied by ISIS," Hitti said.

The French efforts are made "in co-ordination with efforts made by the US and other countries interested in seeing a stable Lebanon", he said, noting that this assistance "contributes greatly" to the country's security.

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