Syria Completes First Phase of Lebanon Withdrawal
Syria has completed the first stage of its promised withdrawal of forces from Lebanon, with 4000 of the 12,000 total troops now back in Syria. It also claims to have withdrawn all of its intelligence forces. Rest assured, they have not.
Syria’s army and intelligence agents on Thursday completed the first phase of their pullback to eastern Lebanon and Syria, while a top Lebanese security chief said he and other officials were willing to stand trial to clear allegations of negligence in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The Syrian withdrawal comes ahead of Tuesday’s summit of Arab leaders in Algeria. Syrian and Lebanon agreed earlier this month that Syrian troops and intelligence agents would redeploy in the eastern Bekaa Valley or withdraw to Syria before the end of the month. “They have finished their redeployment,” a senior Lebanese army officer told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. He refused to give further details, saying a statement would be released within 48 hours.
The precise details are sketchy, as the significantly different numbers in this Reuters report make clear:
The first phase of Syria’s troop pullout from Lebanon is “roughly” complete, bringing Damascus closer to meeting U.S. demands that it totally quit its neighbor, a Lebanese security source said on Thursday. The senior source told Reuters all Syrian troops and intelligence officers in Lebanon had pulled back either to the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon or had crossed back into Syria. “It roughly ended,” the source said. “There are just some logistics left. But the people went, all of them.” The source said that 8,000 to 10,000 Syrian troops remained in the Bekaa Valley while roughly 4,000 to 6,000 had left the country entirely.
Syria agreed to withdraw its troops under intense international pressure and also protests in Beirut. Washington wants all Syrian troops and intelligence personnel out of Lebanon to allow for free elections in May.
Substantial progress, in any event.
Update: Syria Agents End Presence in Lebanon (AP)
Syrian intelligence agents ended their 18-year presence in Beirut on Wednesday, and emboldened residents of the capital came forward to celebrate. Some kissed the ground and others wept, wandering the basement cellblock at the headquarters and describing torture there.
It is inconceivable that the Syrian government would be so irresponsible as to remove all of its human intelligence assets from a neighboring country, let alone one with such a history. Still, the removal of the overt presence is a major step.