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LEBANON: Saudis disown Sunni militia

An advisor to the Saudi Arabian leadership told the Los Angeles Times that his government had warned its Lebanese allies against trying to build an armed force to combat Hezbollah, but to no avail.

For months, Lebanon's Sunni-led Future Movement sought to build an armed force under the guise of a security firm, called Secure Plus, in part to counter the Shiite militia Hezbollah's growing strength, according to Lebanese officials, security experts and Sunni fighters themselves cited in a Times report last week.

But at least some in the Saudi leadership — the primary international patron of Lebanon's Sunnis — thought it was a bad idea from the inception.

"The whole concept of these militias was wrong from the start and we never took the idea seriously," said the advisor, who asked that his name not be published because of the sensitivity of the topic.

"We had never directly got involved in the arming of this so-called militia, which was doomed to failure from the beginning due to how it was created and who was leading it up," said the Saudi advisor.

There was strong reaction throughout Lebanon and the blogosphere to the Times article about the armed Sunni group, which proved no match for Hezbollah, at least not in Beirut.

Some pro-Hezbollah news outlets, unfortunately, misappropriated the article to score political points, alleging that The Times was reporting that the U.S. was funding the groups or that Lebanon's Internal Security Force was behind them.

For the record, The Times reported no such thing.

Others were sharply critical of the article.

"The truth is that Secure Plus is a glorified private security company," wrote Charles Malik, on his blog, Lebanese Political Journal:

They train their staff to a greater extent than security guards who monitor parking garage cameras, but do not train them in military tactics on how to launch RPGs and take and control of terrain, similar to Hezbollah. Given the number of assassinations in Beirut in recent history, these guards are trained in evasive maneuvers in order to get their leader out of a bind quickly. These tactics often involve a lot of pushing and fast driving. Hariri's private security does not have the training or experience to take on an army.

Others speculated as to whether the disarming of this network of security companies may have been the primary goal of Hezbollah's offensive into Beirut. 

"It looks like Hezbollah rolled them up quickly, turned over the prisoners to the Lebanese army and then withdrew," wrote one commentator.

Journalist Greg Grant, who writes about international relations from Washington, commented on the story on his Tribal Wars blog:

It appears they missed the whole "unit cohesion" part of the effort, proving once again that you can't just cobble together an effective fighting force, no matter how much money you throw at it.

Finally, one American of Lebanese descent sent along the following note, which mirrored the frustration most ordinary people feel at watching armed groups take over their country:

Until the army is willing to take a stand against all armed groups that are not part of the official military, they are doomed to the status quo. You cannot allow groups to have their own armies in a sovereign nation.

Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

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Interesting. I was mainly referring to the local TV media. Have you read stories specifically about Secure Plus in the Arab papers Maha? I have heard some general speculation but not the detail, i.e. naming of the group and its specific associations to the Future movement, publishing interviews/testimonials with members as well as figures on funding and drawing a connection to previous clashes that took place this year-- as was done in the Times piece. Would be interested in where you have read/seen these reports if possible. Thanks.

I disagree with you Habib. Arabic-language news media had spoken about the phenomenon of armed private security groups, several times over the past year. But people don't read and governments don't react.

The name got potential. Secure Plus sounds like a possible brand name for a female sanitary product.

Just my 0.02 worth of opinion.

It's interesting how your piece on "Secure Plus" has become the talk of the town here in Beirut, and that, as usual, it was the reporting of Western journalists that broke a local story, with investigative journalism seemingly absent from the Arab and Lebanese media scene. Before the Times report came out, it was the Hezbollah TV station Al Manar that did most of the talking on this subject. But news reporters there built up the Sunni forces as a menacing threat, labeling them repeatedly as the "government's militia". From Al Manar's reporting it seemed that this government militia, mentioned about a dozen times per hour, would be put up a fight of epic proportions. Perhaps if local journalists did more digging than pontificating, the Lebanese people would be less surprised by the events surrounding them.

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