Breaking ISIS: The Lebanese Military’s Counterterrorism Triumph

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In 2017, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) projected an offensive that made significant headway against Islamic State forces in northeast Lebanon. The LAF’s anti-Islamic State drive was its most professional Counter Terrorism operation since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war, and it displayed the extent of its improved credentials since its last major counterterrorism arrangement in 2007 against a Sunni jihadi group in north Lebanon. While the Islamic State was beaten and the mission of restoring state authority over northeast Lebanon appears to have been accomplished

The LAF calculated Islamic State strength in Lebanon in the summer of 2017 at about 600 fighters divided into three groups—the “Bakri” section in the northern sector, east of the Christian village of Qaa; the “Ali” faction in the major sector, east of Ras Baalbek; and the “Osama” faction in the south. The total area shielded by the Islamic State in Lebanon was 46 square miles, according to the LAF.  Hezbollah stated that the Islamic State was in control of 60 square miles of landscape in Syria in the Qalamoun region.

The LAF deployed some 5,000 soldiers for the operation against the Islamic State. The LAF’s theatre commander, Brigadier General Fadi Daoud, the commander of the 6th MIB, developed a pincer movement prepared with a blocking force to the north and striking forces from the west and south to drive the militants eastward into Syrian territory.

On August 14, the 1st Intervention Regiment seized hills just northeast of Arsal and southwest of the main Islamic State-held location. Two days later, the 1st IR struck Islamic State positions in elevations on the southern front of the Islamic State Osama faction. The Islamic State militants put up stiff opposition, wounding several LAF troops. The 1st IR was dragged back briefly, and the Islamic State place was struck with precision munitions—AGM114 Hellfire missiles and 155mm laser-guided “Copperhead” artillery rounds. 

The “Copperheads” were directed onto the target by the AC208 Cessna aircraft and by Mukafaha SOF on the ground. The Mukafaha also captured several mountain-top outposts that had been controlled by Hezbollah along the northern side of the operational area east of Qaa. The Hezbollah fighters had arranged for a Ministry of Defense proposal to pull out, and the fighters redeployed on the Syrian side of the border.

On August 19, the LAF declared the formal beginning of Operation Fajr al-Jurd (“Dawn of the Outskirts”) and stated that the offensive would not be coordinated with Hezbollah. On August 20, the LAF’s Air Assault Regiment embarked on a frontal attack from the west on the main defensive line of the Bakr and Ali factions. The LAF made ample use of the “Copperhead” munitions, firing over 140 rounds at Islamic State targets, and killing machine gun nests, mortar pits, and other fixed positions. 

The close coordination between the LAF’s command post, artillery batteries, and ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) support denied the Islamic State militants the ability to work and kept them trapped in their positions.

On August 22, with the Islamic State concentrated on the LAF threat to the west, the 6th MIB and a group from the 4th IR advanced from the south toward the main attention of Islamic State forces near Khirbet Daoud. The LAF column utilised D9 bulldozers to cut new tracks through the rocky landscape to bypass existing routes that were laced with IEDs and land mines.  

The Islamic State soldiers deployed in Ras al-Kaf, a major defence on a 5,200-foot mountain, could see the upcoming LAF column to the south and worried they would be cut off from the Syrian border. The militants began withdrawing to the east, and by August 24, the surviving fighters were bottled up in a valley of some 7.5 square miles contiguous to the border.

The LAF operation had moved with an efficiency and speed that drew praise from foreign military officials. One conveyed the offensive as “21st-century manoeuvre warfare by a modern military.” A retired LAF brigadier general who was acquainted with the details of the operation described, “Two things won the battle—ISR and precision munitions.”

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