Posted by Michael J. Totten
Yesterday I took a much-needed day off (my first since I got here) and cruised over Mount Lebanon to the Bekaa Valley to look at the Roman ruins at Baalbeck. As my tour bus approached the city our guide pointed out a small garrison of Syrian troops off to the right. Soldiers huddled around tents in the rain below a gigantic portrait of their goon-in-chief Bashar Assad. “Don’t take pictures of them,” she said. “It will cause trouble.”
I decided to take some pictures anyway. To hell with them. What were they going to do? Shoot down a tourist bus as their final act in the country?
I raised my camera to the window. The soldiers looked like miserable dogs that had been kicked in the ribs with steel-toed boots. The popular uprising in Lebanon had totally thrashed and demoralized them. Every one of them stared into the windows of the bus as we drove past. Many saw my camera and stared at me personally. I decided then that I would follow the tour lady’s advice and not take a picture. There was no way I was going to sneak in a photo without them knowing it. So I pointed my camera down and lowered it into my lap.
I did feel slightly intimidated. As individuals many of these men may be exemplary human beings. But the Syrian military is a monstrous thing that should probably not be messed with by anyone who isn’t very well-armed.
That’s the extent of my personal contact with the Syrian Baath regime. It sure isn’t much. It’s practically nothing at all – and thank Heaven for that. But it’s just enough that I read the following article with a wee bit more satisfaction than I would have otherwise.
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian troops burned documents and dismantled military posts in their final hours in Lebanon Sunday, before deploying toward the border and effectively ending 29 years of military presence in the country.
A few score Syrian troops will remain in Lebanon for a farewell ceremony Tuesday that the Lebanese Army plans to hold in a town close to the Syrian border.
In Damascus, the Syrian capital, a government official said: “Within the next few hours, all the troops will be out of Lebanon.”
“What will be left are those who will take part in the official farewell” on Tuesday, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In the border town of Anjar, home of Syria’s chief of military intelligence in Lebanon, Syrian officials appeared to be going about their business as usual Sunday.
But at the Deir el-Ahmar base, Syria’s last major garrison in the Bekaa Valley, 15 tanks rolled on to flatbed trucks, ready for the drive home, witnesses told The Associated Press. Soldiers burned papers, knocked down walls and loaded ammunition on to trucks.
Syrian troops had already vacated at least 10 positions in the northern part of the Bekaa Valley on Saturday. Dozens of trucks carrying hundreds of soldiers and at least 150 armored vehicles, towing artillery pieces and rocket launchers, crossed the border into Syria, witnesses said.
“Tomorrow everything will be over,” a Lebanese military officer said Saturday.
(PS – Don’t forget to read my own Lebanon coverage over at Spirit of America’s Lebanon blog.)