British forces have quietly constructed a series of strongholds all along the Lebanese border to halt the advance of ISIS further into the Levant. The terrorist had hoped to be able to boast of reaching the Mediterranean but hastily constructed watchtowers have already held them at bay, protecting the local Christian, Druze, Sunni and Shia population.
Tango 10, one of 12 watchtowers constructed from shipping containers and wire cages, has already deterred ISIS terrorists from taking the town of Ras Baalbek, home to a Christian community. It was built in just 17 days by a British team of former soldiers and engineers at a cost to the British of £150,000, the Telegraph has reported. More are planned.
Less than two weeks after its construction, the tower was instrumental in protecting the town from a large-scale attack by ISIL and Jabhat Al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda linked organisation. “When the invasion came, a line of vehicles split off and headed for Ras Baalbek,” one of the British team said. “Then they stopped and looked up at the watchtower and all its artillery waiting for them. They turned around.”
The towers punctuate the eastern border of Lebanon all the way from the northernmost area to around half way down the border line. They are carefully placed to create overlapping arcs of sight. “You can’t imagine what it was like when we got out here first,” one former officer told the Telegraph. “There were a few guys behind some tyres filled with rocks with a 50 cal [machine gun].”
“You have to start security somewhere,” said another, a former British officer. “We are not building the Maginot line. People are scared. They’ve all seen the decapitations on YouTube. They know what ISIL want to do.”
A third British team member said “To understand this area, you need to understand that the border between Syria and Lebanon is a relatively new concept. This was a no-man’s land for decades.”
Despite the fast pace of construction, not all of the towers have been built in time to stave off an attack. The Sunni village of Aarsal, a few miles north of Tango 10, was stormed by ISIL forces and overrun before their tower could be completed. After three days of fighting Lebanese forces were able to re-take the town, but 19 of their soldiers were kidnapped, and a number have since been beheaded in Syria.
Captain Masri of the Lebanese Army, who is stationed at Tango 10 told the Telegraph “The purpose of this tower is to defend the town of Ras Baalbek. Before this tower existed the terrorists could infiltrate easily, reach the town and possibly take it over. So that’s why we made this tower on this very important and strategic mountain – to prevent and deter the terrorists from crossing and reaching the town.
In the winter time [the terrorists] have a very hard time surviving in the mountains, so we anticipated a terrorist attack on our position, to get through to Ras Baalbek to get supplies and ammunition. And that happened.
“They tried to do it two or three times, but when they saw that we had a stronghold, a strong position, and we can defend ourselves without being attacked like what happened in Aarsal, they wouldn’t do that again. We were able to deter them and to defend our position.
Construction of the towers began after Prime Minister David Cameron received a direct appeal from Najib Mikati, former Prime Minister of Lebanon during a visit to Downing Street in October 2011. Tom Fletcher, the British ambassador to Lebanon said “David Cameron said to him, very clearly, ‘We are allies. Tell us what you need and we will deliver it’.” Mr Mikati asked for watchtowers, kit, and training. All were delivered.
Mr Fletcher believes that Tango 10 has already averted the wholescale massacre of the Christians of Ras Baalbek. “They [ISIL] want these big symbolic victories — you bust through a border, you carry out a massacre and you get the attention. In a country that has such existing fragilities, that would have had dramatic consequences,” he said.