The United States will provide the Lebanese army with its first attack helicopters in a bid to bolster border security and fight Islamist militants groups, US officials said Wednesday in Beirut.
The landmark announcement came during a visit to Lebanon by General Joseph Votel, the top commander for US military forces in the Middle East.
The US Department of Defense will give Lebanon six MD530G light attack helicopters as part of its security assistance programme, according to US Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard.
It will also provide six new Scan Eagle drones, night vision devices, other equipment and training, she added.
Richard said the assistance, worth more than $120 million, "will help the army build on its steady strong capability to conduct border security and counterterrorism operations".
Votel, who met on Wednesday with Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Defence Minister Yaacoub al-Sarraf, and army chief General Joseph Aoun, said the US was "proud" to partner with the army.
Aram Nerguizian, a senior associate at the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Wednesday's announcement marked the first time the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) would receive attack helicopters.
He said the LAF had needed aircraft for close air support, precision targeting, and intelligence gathering and surveillance.
"It was also looking for a system that could operate at altitude -- such as Lebanon's frontier with Syria, which is well above sea level -- and that is reasonably easy to maintain and sustain," Nerguizian told AFP.