Lebanese Army Slowly Retakes Border Area From ISIS, al-Qaeda

Army: Islamists Hold Only About 50 Square Kilometers

by Jason Ditz, June 22, 2016

Lebanese forces around the key town of Arsal, in the Bekaa Valley near the Syrian border, report that after months of slow but steady progress, they have nearly retaken the entire border area from the Syrian Islamist factions which set up shop there earlier in the Syrian Civil War.

It’s a military operation that hasn’t been nearly as widely reported as the others in the region, with occasional reports of al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front kidnapping a few police or some such, but at this point it involves some 5,000 Lebanese troops, fighting to cover the 50 square kilometers that the Islamists still hold.

Earlier in the war, the Islamists held as much as 1,000 square kilometers, with both ISIS and Nusra carving out considerable amounts of territory. The fighting has been slow, meter to meter, with Lebanese forces erecting observation towers and keeping troops positioned around the area to try to prevent them returning to areas already cleared.

The Lebanese border was a major place for weapons smuggling for rebels early in the civil war, and was quickly overrun by the Islamist groups, which had been most effective on the front lines. Hezbollah has provided some assistance to the Lebanese military in the border regions, as they have in fighting the Islamists inside Syria itself.

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