US military delivers humanitarian aid to Lebanon in wake of Beirut explosion

Aug 6, 2020

The United States is joining other countries around the world in sending humanitarian aid to Lebanon in response to the catastrophic explosion that decimated Beirut earlier this week.

A US C-17 carrying water, food and medical supplies to the Mediterranean country took off today from al-Udeid air base in Qatar, bound for Beirut. Two further flights are scheduled, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said.

Seven pallets of bottled water, as well as pallets of food and medical supplies were on the first flight, Hoffman said. A US military official told Al-Monitor that some logistical details of the shipments are still being worked out.

The assistance follows pledges from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, France, Israel and many other countries to provide for material humanitarian aid to Beirut.

The US shipment was announced after the head of American forces in the Middle East, Central Command chief Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, spoke today with the head of Lebanon’s armed forces, Gen. Joseph Aoun.

McKenzie expressed condolences for those lost as a result of the blast and pledged continued US support for Lebanon’s armed forces, which have been placed in charge of Beirut’s security by the Lebanese parliament as part of a two-week state of emergency.

The United States considers Lebanon’s military to be a valuable bulwark against Hezbollah, which Washington views as an proxy of Iran.

Hoffman emphasized to reporters today that the military was not sending financial aid to Lebanon and that the Defense Department is working with USAID and the State Department to ensure the assistance is delivered appropriately to the Lebanese people, amid concerns of widespread corruption.

Lebanon is facing an economic crisis on top of Tuesday’s deadly blast, which killed some 149 people and injured 5,000.

Last year the Trump administration moved to freeze $105 million in aid to Lebanon’s armed forces, but then reversed the decision after word leaked to the press amid Trump’s impeachment inquiry, which centered on the president withholding aid from Ukraine for political gain.

McKenzie told Aoun that the United States will continue to work with Lebanon “to identify and expedite support” for the country’s recovery, CENTCOM spokesman Capt. Bill Urban told reporters in an emailed statement.

Hoffman today also tried to smooth over a contradiction between Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s comment Wednesday about the cause of the Beirut blast, and President Donald Trump’s remark on the matter the day prior.

“On Tuesday and Wednesday, we saw different information come to light,” Hoffman told reporters.

“The secretary and the president have both been consistent that we’ve reached no definitive cause for the explosion and that as information is still coming in we’re going to continue to assess it,” he said, after mentioning the United States would defer to the Lebanese government’s investigation.

Hoffman declined to discuss any potential conclusions so far by the US intelligence community about the cause of the blast.

Lebanese officials have said that repair work on a dockside warehouse holding 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, seized from a ship in 2014, led to the detonation. Prime Minister Hassan Diab has vowed to hold those responsible for the negligence to account.



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