NATO's military commander says he discussed with senior officials the possibility of sending the new NATO Reaction Force to Lebanon to help keep the peace. But he says someone at the U.N. decided not to ask for the force. Meanwhile, new concerns were raised Thursday about how quickly the United Nations will be able to deploy a substantial force for Lebanon.
The NATO commander, U.S. Marine General James Jones, says he discussed the possibility of using the new NATO force in southern Lebanon with senior U.S. officials, and with NATO's secretary general* . But he says, at least for now, the U.N. decided not to ask for NATO's help.
The NATO Reaction Force draws on troops from member nations, as the group always does for its military missions. But this is a standing force, specially trained and always ready for rapid deployment.
"The NATO Response Force is ideally organized, trained and equipped for that kind of mission," he said.
General Jones says the 25,000-member force has a command and control system in place, and can be configured for a variety of missions, ranging from humanitarian assistance to forced entry. And he notes that it recently passed its certification exercise in Cape Verde, off the west coast of Africa.
"It has been certified," he added. "So it sits there and it's ready for the uses for which it's intended."
While General Jones says the NATO Reaction force is ready, the United Nations is having difficulty fielding an expanded Lebanon force of its own. The Security Council resolution passed earlier this month, which led to the current ceasefire, calls for the expansion of the current U.N. Lebanon force from about 2,000 soldiers to 15,000. France has said it will lead the force, but a French newspaper reported Thursday that the country will only send a small number of troops.
U.N. officials have been visiting other countries that have offered forces to determine just how many troops are available, what their capabilities are and how quickly they can be deployed. The officials say they hope to be able to send 3,000 additional troops into southern Lebanon within the next two weeks.
General Jones says he does not know why the United Nations decided not to use the NATO force for this mission, even just to provide some stability until the U.N. force is ready. But France's defense minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, gave some indication Wednesday of why NATO has not been asked to help. In an interview with a French television station she said any southern Lebanon force must have Muslim countries represented so that it does not appear to be what she called "the Western world against the Muslim world."
* corrected 8/18 - This article originally incorrectly reported the general spoke with the UN secretary-general, not the NATO secretary general.