Despite a civil war that ended years ago, Lebanon is famous in the region for its multicultural society. Although multiple ethnicities and sects are considered weaknesses elsewhere in the region, in Lebanon they are viewed as strengths because Lebanese society enjoys tolerance. But security has not happened by itself; instead, it takes a strong military to keep a watchful eye on the security of the nation, combating terrorism, extremism and sectarian violence. Among these Soldiers is Staff Brig. Gen. Ranger Bassam Issa.
The general is a man known for his bravery, national spirit and humbleness. His legacy reveals a man who has fought many battles for the security and stability of his nation. His military career began during times of turmoil in the 1980s, when he partnered with a U.S Special Operations team in Lebanon and continued his education by studying advanced military science in France.
He has served in many leadership positions, most notably command of the 2nd Battalion, known for its ability to quickly intervene and deter enemies.
“I am proud to serve as a Lebanese Ranger for about 20 years and seven years leading the quick intervention 2nd Battalion,” the general told Unipath. “The unit responds vigorously to unplanned events and is known for rapid mobilization that catches the enemy by surprise.”
Brig. Gen. Issa pointed out that his battalion was stationed in the middle of the Beqaa Valley, an area known for its dense population and critical proximity to the border that increases the difficulty of missions.
“But the battalion always accomplished its tasks and never hesitated to reach any target regardless of the circumstances,” the general said. “I was proud to be a partner with U.S. Special Operations because I was able to raise the tactical level of my Soldiers. Comparing the readiness status in the past with what we accomplished with our partners is something that would make everyone proud. I hope this program will be implemented across the region because it is very beneficial. We took advantage to learn from their experience, training and employment of advanced tactics.”
Brig. Gen. Issa’s emphasis on the importance of building capabilities through partnerships helped his forces succeed during battles in Tripoli with terrorists trying to gain a foothold in the city. And he noted other important partnerships as well.
“We always participate in the Eager Lion exercise hosted by Jordan. All participants at Eager Lion express their satisfaction with the performance of our Soldiers in the exercise. I must mention that the significance of Eager Lion is to meet our counterparts and friends in the region, learn new approaches and exchange lessons learned from the battles carried by our friends and allies against Da’ish in the region. We also learn about new technology and weapons systems.”
Among the new technology introduced to Lebanese forces was unmanned aerial vehicles for reconnaissance. “They have helped us seal our borders. In the past we didn’t have this capability. Partnering with U.S. forces gave us tremendous skill,” he said.
The general and his men have been busy dealing with the spillover from the Syrian civil war.
“The terrorist groups attempt to drag Lebanon into the Syrian civil war by sending car bombs to specific communities, attacking military posts and smuggling weapons and fighters. Combined with the huge numbers of displaced Syrians fleeing the war, these factors created a new situation that requires the quick intervention battalion to conduct many dangerous missions in its area of responsibility and beyond,” Brig. Gen. Issa said.
“These missions were not expected or planned for, yet were accomplished without taking any casualties. I believe the reason for that is the continuous training and the use of advanced tactics. Our furious and rapid response to the terrorist attacks that attempted to take over military posts not only disrupted the attacks but killed and detained many terrorists. The battalion conducted many raids and search operations inside the Syrian refugee camps that resulted in confiscated weapons and the capture of known and dangerous terrorists.”
An equally dramatic battle occurred in Tripoli, where the enemies of Lebanon wrongly assumed they could fracture national unity and ignite sedition.
“The battle of Tripoli is like the rest of the battles that our military conducted in Abera, Beqaa and Arsal, in which the unity and capability of our military was the rock that crushed the terrorists’ sick dream,” the general explained. “We inflicted a huge defeat on them, and the Lebanese military proved that strong will and national unity can win tough battles.”
Brig. Gen. Issa praises his former commander, Brig. Gen. Jihad Shaheen, who took a keen interest in him when he was a junior officer and taught him important lessons about how small units could operate in Lebanon’s hilly terrain, changing tactics as the battles required.
“Brig. Gen. Shaheen was my ideal military commander,” Brig. Gen. Issa noted. “I was a second lieutenant in his force. He taught us like a father teaching his own boys. He always told us that we would lead the military soon and needed to love and respect our Soldiers.”
Brig. Gen. Issa’s mentor also possessed another admirable quality still remembered by his former subordinates: He concentrated on preserving Lebanon’s delicate natural environment, making sure that military compounds were ecologically responsible and that Soldiers preserved the countryside where they were stationed. An important part of any military is the need to instill professionalism in young officers, the general said.
“I trained the battalion by training about 30 trainers. Then those trainers trained a thousand fighters. These young trainers are the cornerstone that will maintain our level of readiness and open the door for a new generation of leaders,” he said. “They must understand that they are the best and the most qualified to be the leaders of tomorrow.”