COVID-19 has created a radically different set of problems for U.S. Special Operations Forces and their host nation partners across the globe. Already under considerable strain from hosting large numbers of refugees from Syria and facing mounting economic trouble, Lebanon and Jordan are confronting an invisible and insidious enemy - COVID-19.
However, the Lebanese and Jordanian militaries are confronting this invisible enemy hand-in-hand with their American SOF counterparts. U.S. Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT) has built and maintained strong partnerships with the Lebanese and Jordanian Armed Forces over a generation.
Civil affairs (CA) teams from the 96th CA Battalion, have deployed to Lebanon and Jordan since 2012, are in position to assist the Lebanese Civil-Military Cooperation Center (CIMIC) and the Jordanian Civil-Military Coordination Center (CMCC) as they serve in an unfamiliar role supporting their civil institutions on the front line against the virus.
The CA teams have been working closely with their military partners, local governments and non-government organizations to alleviate impacts of the virus. Protective equipment, purchased through CENTCOM's Foreign Humanitarian Assistance program, has been distributed to communities and first responders in need. The teams distributed the medical and sanitary supplies donated by NGOs to communities within Lebanon and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
Throughout March and April, over 20,000 hygiene kits were distributed to school children along with 33,200 masks, 152,000 gloves, 11,200 bottles of hand sanitizer and 19,000 information cards to local clinics and medical centers to help prevent the spread of the virus.
“We highly appreciate the attitude of the local agencies and the American military teams to provide the municipality of Zarqa with quantities of protective and sterile materials in these difficult conditions facing the kingdom in the fight against the virus,” said Engineer Emad Al-Momani, the Mayor of Zarqa, Jordan. “The gesture has had a great impact on us and shows that the organization and the teams have a humanitarian dimension through these wonderful attitudes.”
In the first part of February, the U.S. civil military support element (CMSE) in Jordan partnered with the Jordanian Civil Military Coordination Center (CMCC) for a distribution of winter clothing in Safawi and Ruwayshid, Jordan – poor, under-represented regions near the Syrian and Iraqi borders.
The U.S. and Jordanian CA teams collaborated their efforts in order to present jackets and scarves to nearly 1200 students. The Jordanian CMCC planned and coordinated the distribution with the advice and assistance of the U.S. CMSE.
“This was the first time the CMCC took the lead on a combined operation,” said U.S. Army Capt. Jordan Legg, a team leader of Civil Affairs Team 614. “This project gave us a baseline as we focus on institutional development so that the CMCC may expand operations—both within Jordan and regionally.”
The groundwork for the collaboration on COVID-19 response was laid in the months and years leading to the current crisis. In collaboration with their military partners in both Jordan and Lebanon, teams have improved, refurbished and constructed clinics during the last decade under U.S. Central Command’s Overseas Humanitarian Disaster and Civil Aid (OHDACA) program in underserved areas within both countries.
Recently in April, U.S. SOF collaborated with a NGO in Lebanon to provide advanced medical training to LAF soldiers. This helped set conditions for the LAF to provide support to the community as they enforce or advise on social distancing measures.
The CMSE and NGO partners assisted LAF leaders to develop an organic medical capacity with their combat forces. The CMSE and the NGO provided training equipment for a Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) course at the Hamat Special Forces School. The graduates of the course also received their own individual first aid kits.
“The ongoing coordination between various US SOF elements, the LAF, and local Lebanese NGOs demonstrates the continuous unity of effort amongst SOF elements to identify gaps in the Lebanese Armed Forces and build partner capacity,” said U.S. Army Capt. Sondra Setterington, team leader of CA Team 613.
The CA team’s work complements the efforts of the U.S. State Department, which recently allocated $13.3 million in new assistance for Lebanon and $8 million for Jordan. The support is intended for humanitarian relief for COVID-19 response activities assisting vulnerable citizens and refugees.
These efforts, and the current COVID response, can only occur because of the strong partnership, trust, and mutual respect between U.S. SOF, partner military units; built over years of sustained civil-military engagement. SOCCENT’s CA teams, with the support from the U.S. country teams in Lebanon and Jordan increase the capability of partners while advancing U.S. interests, achieving U.S. and partner goals to defeat threats within the civil component of the operational environment.