BEIRUT: The Army commander’s mandate will be extended for two years in September if a successor is not appointed, Speaker Nabih Berri told lawmakers visiting his Ain al-Tineh residence Thursday.
The speaker noted that a three-month technical extension was inadvisable in this situation, since the election of a president was a pre-requisite to the appointment of a new Army chief.
“When the [Army commander's] mandate comes to an end next September, and if a new commander isn’t appointed, then Gen. Jean Kahwagi’s term will be extended for a period of two years,” Berri said.
The speaker rejected the Free Patriotic Movement’s demand for the appointment of a new Army commander before the end of Kahwagi’s mandate, saying that a successor will only be appointed after the end of the military leader’s term.
But if the appointment is not carried out in time, then Kahwagi’s mandate will be extended in order to allow for the military to continue its duties unhindered, he said.
Kahwagi’s extension, according to Berri, would follow in the example of Internal Security Forces chief Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous, whose term was extended by two years last week, after Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouksigned a decree to that effect.
The two-year extension, according to Berri, sought to preserve the ISF’s leadership and in turn, reinforce the institution's morale until a new ISF chief would be appointed.
The Free Patriotic Movement has strongly opposed extending the terms of the current security chiefs, demanding the Cabinet appoint a new ISF head and Army commander.
The Future Movement and some Christian parties argue that a new Army commander should not be chosen before the election of a new president, who should have a say in the appointment.
In response to the widening rift over the thorny issue, Berri asked: “What did the Army commander do to deserve this treatment?”
Speaking rhetorically, he asked whether Kahwagi should be “punished” for the military’s role in quelling clashes with supporters of firebrand preacher Sheikh Ahmad Assir in Sidon during the summer of 2013, or for its role in preventing sectarian strife in the northeastern border town of Arsal.
“And is the Army being punished because it is backing the resistance when they need help in their battle against terrorism?”