Monday, May 12, 2008

Lebanon's Sunni bloc built militia, officials say

The Future movement used a security firm to assemble a private force, officials say. But the fighters were no match for the Shiite group Hezbollah.

By Borzou Daragahi and Raed Rafei, Special to The Times
May 12, 2008
Los Angeles Times

"BEIRUT -- For a year, the main Lebanese political faction backed by the United States built a Sunni Muslim militia here under the guise of private security companies, Lebanese security experts and officials said.

The fighters, aligned with Saad Hariri's Future movement, were trained and armed to counter the heavily armed Shiite Muslim militant group Hezbollah and protect their turf in a potential military confrontation.

But in a single night late last week, the curious experiment in private-sector warfare crumbled.

Attacked by Hezbollah, the Future movement fighters quickly fled Beirut or gave up their weapons. Afterward, some of the fighters said they felt betrayed by their political patrons, who failed to give them the means to protect themselves while official security forces stood aside and let Hezbollah destroy them.

"We are prepared to fight for a few hours but not more," said one of the Sunni fighters in the waning moments of the battle. "Where do we get ammunition and weapons from? We are blocked. The roads are blocked. Even Saad Hariri has left us to face our fate alone."

The head of a conventional private security firm in Beirut, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the Sunni force was "not really ready."

"You can't just spend millions of dollars to build an army in one year," he said. "They have to be motivated and believe in something. They have to be willing to die.".......

After the Future movement fighters gave up, Hezbollah handed them over to the Lebanese army, freeing itself of caring for prisoners while preventing the captured fighters from reentering the battle for at least a few days.

At a hospital near the scene of some of the heaviest fighting, a Future movement fighter employed by Secure Plus wandered stunned in his pajamas with his two sons, who also served in the Sunni militia. His sons had suffered minor wounds after being beaten up by Hezbollah fighters.

Once he realized that Hezbollah's victory was inevitable, he and his sons tried to escape their rivals' clutches by staying home. But to no avail; Hezbollah knew where they lived.

"I didn't leave my home," he said. "They came for us.""

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