|NLP Tigers Militia|
|Participant in Lebanese civil war (1975-1990)|
NLP Tigers Militia logo (1968-1980)
|Groups||Lebanese Front, Lebanese Forces|
|Leaders||Naim Berdkan, Dany Chamoun, Dory Chamoun|
|Headquarters||Sodeco (Ashrafieh – Beirut), Safra|
|Originated as||500 fighters|
|Allies||Israel Defense Forces (IDF), South Lebanon Army (SLA)|
|Opponents||Lebanese National Movement (LNM), Lebanese Forces, Guardians of the Cedars, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Syrian Army|
The Tigers Militia (Arabic: نمور الأحرار, transliterated: Numūr or Al-Noumour), also known as NLP Tigers or Tigers of the Liberals (Arabic: Numur al-Ahrar) and PNL "Lionceaux" in French, was the military wing of the National Liberal Party (NLP) during the Lebanese Civil War.
The NLP militia was first raised in October 1968 by Camille Chamoun at his own home town of Es-Sa’adiyat, originally under the title Brigade of the Lebanese Tigers – BLT (Arabic: Katibat al-Numur al-Lubnaniyya) or Brigade des Lionceaux Libanais (BLL) in French, allegedly taken from his middle name, Nimr – meaning “Tiger” in Arabic.
Initially just 500-men strong, the BLT was organized, trained, and led by the ‘defence secretary’ of the NLP Naim Berdkan; after his death in action in January 1976, he was succeeded by Dany Chamoun, Camille Chamoun's son.
Allocated at first in the NLP party offices’ at the neighborhood of Sodeco in the Achrafieh quarter of Beirut, the Tigers’ military HQ was relocated in 1978 to Safra, a boat marina and tourist beach resort located 25 km north of the Lebanese capital in the Keserwan District, where it remained until the militia’s dissolution.
Structure and organization
Under the command of Dany Chamoun, the Tigers had become by 1978 the second largest militia force in the Christian Lebanese Front, well-provided with modern small-arms and bolstered since 1976 by an assortment of ex-Lebanese Army M41 Walker Bulldog and AMX-13 light tanks, Charioteer tank destroyers, M42 Duster SPAAGs, M113 and Panhard M3 VTT Armoured personnel carriers, Staghound armoured cars, Panhard AML-90 armoured cars, and a fleet of gun-trucks (M151 jeeps, Land-Rovers, Toyota Land Cruisers, Peugeot and Chrysler light pickups, and GMC cargo trucks) fitted with heavy machine guns, recoilless rifles, anti-aircraft autocannons and light MBRLs.
Although the Chamouns never achieved with their militia the same level of organizational efficiency displayed by the rival Phalange' Kataeb Regulatory Forces militia, they were nonetheless capable of aligning 3,500 men and women, though other sources list a total of 4,000. Its 500 full-time fighters and 3,000 part-time reservists were organized into armoured, ‘commando’, infantry, artillery, signals, medical, logistics and military police branches. Their chain of command was predominantly Maronite, though the rank-and-file were drawn from the Maronite, Greek-Orthodox, Druze, and Shi’ite militants of the NLP and trained in-country at clandestine facilities; first set up by the NLP in 1966 these training centres were located at Naas in the Metn, Es-Saadiyat in the Iqlim al-Kharrub coastal enclave south of Beirut and in Adma at the northern mountainous Keserwan District.
The Tigers also received covert support from Jordan and Egypt since 1973, followed by Israel and Syria in 1976-77, who provided further training as well as additional weapons and heavy equipment, including twenty M50 Super Sherman Tanks, BTR-152 APCs, field artillery, BM-12 (Chinese Type 63) 107mm towed MBRLs, and anti-aircraft autocannons.
NLP militia units operated mainly in East Beirut, Jbeil and Tripoli in the Metn, Mount Lebanon and Keserwan Districts, but also had a presence at Zahlé in the Beqaa valley, at the south in the Iqlim al-Kharrub and the Jabal Amel, where their local militants later played a key part in the formation of the Israeli-backed 'Free Lebanese Militia/Army', South Lebanon Army’s predecessor.
Illegal activities and controversy
Financing for the NLP militia came at first from both Chamoun’s personal fortune and from 'protection' rackets collected in the areas under their control, though they also received outside help. Conservative Arab Countries such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan, together with Egypt and Israel, provided covert funding, weapons, ammunition, training and other non-lethal assistance. Most of it entered towards the illegal port of Dbayeh, set up in early 1976 and run by Joseph Abboud, former personal chauffeur of Camille Chamoun, who carried out drug-smuggling and arms contraband activities at the behalf of the NLP until 1980, when the Lebanese Forces brought the port under their authority.
Ruthless fighters with a reputation of aggressiveness, aggrieved by lack of discipline and restraint, they were involved in the Karantina, al-Masklah and Tel al-Zaatar Massacres of Palestinian refugees in East Beirut and Dbayeh, allied with the Army of Free Lebanon, Al-Tanzim, Kataeb Regulatory Forces and the Guardians of the Cedars.
Towards the end of the 1970s, however, rivalries within the Lebanese Front coalition strained the relationship between the NLP Tigers’ militia and their erstwhile Christian allies, leading them to violent confrontation with the Phalangists and the Guardians of the Cedars (GoC). The Tigers’ even battled these two factions in May 1979 for control of the Fern el-Shebak and Ain el-Rammaneh districts in Beirut, and for the town of Akoura in the Metn.
List of Commanders
- Naim Berdkan (October 1968 – January 1976)
- Dany Chamoun (January 1976 – July 1980)
- Dory Chamoun (July – August 1980)
The Tigers in the civil war 1975-77
Upon the outbreak of the civil war in April 1975, the NLP Tigers immediately engaged the leftist Lebanese National Movement (LNM) militias and its Palestinian PLO allies, being heavily committed in several battles in and outside the Beirut area.
At the Battle of the Hotels in October 1975, they supported their Phalangist allies of the Kataeb Regulatory Forces (KRF) militia against the Al-Murabitoun and the Nasserite Correctionist Movement (NCM) for the control of the Hotels district in centre Beirut. In January 1976 the collapse of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) enabled the Tigers to take over Army barracks and depots located at Ashrafieh, Ain el-Rammaneh, Hadath, Baabda, and Hazmiyeh districts of East Beirut, seizing heavy weapons and enrolling defectors into its ranks.
The Tigers later joined the allied Christian Lebanese Front militias in the defense of the Mount Lebanon region against the LNM-PLO ‘Spring Offensive’ in March 1976. Backed by the Tyous Team of Commandos they later put a spirited defence of the Achrafieh and Fayadieh districts during the Hundred Days War in February 1978 against the Syrian Army.
Reversals and decline 1978-1980
The Tigers’ involvement in the above mentioned atrocities, however, cost them the loss of the Iqlim al-Kharrub to the LNM-PLO alliance in January 1976, which they failed to defend despite being backed by ISF units and Lebanese Army ground forces. The fall of this important stronghold was a severe blow to the NLP and the Tigers, depriving them of their main recruiting area along with their local training infrastructure, chiefly the Es-Saadiyat camp, and the port towns of Damour and Jiyeh.
To further aggrieve matters, relations between the NLP political board and the Tigers’ military command soured after the former, headed by Camille Chamoun, supported Syria’s military intervention in June that year whereas the latter, led by its son Dany, strongly opposed to it. Fearing that its own party’ militia was getting out of control, Camille tacitly allowed its Kataeb rivals to absorb the Tigers’ into the Lebanese Forces (LF) under Bachir Gemayel. Dany Chamoun’s adamant refusal of allowing the Tigers’ to be incorporated led the Phalangists to attack its Safra HQ on July 7, 1980, which resulted in a bloodbath that claimed up to 500 lives, mostly civilians.
While their leader Dany was rushed to exile, first to Syria and then to Europe after handling over the command of the Tigers to his elder brother Dory Chamoun, the militia was officially disbanded on Camille’s orders in late August. Soon afterwards, this was followed by the seizure on the part of the Phalangists of nearly all their positions in and outside East Beirut, including the vital Naas and Adma training camps. The remaining 3,000 or so militiamen founded themselves being consolidated by the end of October of that year into the Damouri Brigade within the Lebanese Forces.
Revival and disbandment 1983-1990
The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in June 1982, coupled by the death of the LF supremo Bachir Gemayel in September that year brought the resurgence of the National Liberals into the political scene, though the efforts by Camille Chamoun to revive the Tigers’ militia in 1983-84 proved less successful. The small force of only 100 or so lightly equipped fighters they gathered proved unable to compete with the Lebanese Forces’ military might, being relegated to the role of a mere bodyguard for the NLP political leaders for the remainder of the war.
Upon the end of the civilian strife in October 1990 and the subsequent assassination of Dany Chamoun – who had succeeded his late father at the NLP’s presidency in October 1987 – the last remaining National Liberals’ paramilitary organization was disarmed on orders of the new Lebanese government. The NLP Tigers are no longer active.
The Free Tigers
The Free Tigers (Arabic: Noumour Al-Horr) were originally a 200-strong or so unit of the NLP Tigers commanded by Elias Hannache, which used to operate in the Hadath and Ain el-Rammaneh sectors of East Beirut until the forcible merger of the Tigers’ militia into the Lebanese Forces in July 1980.
Backed by Lebanese Army units sent upon request of the NLP president Camille Chamoun, Hannache and its men tried to resist incorporation by staging an anti-LF armed uprising that rocked the south-east districts of the Lebanese capital from August to October 1980. Defeated after a four-day street battle and forced out of their last remaining strongholds at Ain el-Rammaneh by the LF, Hannache’s dissident Tigers fled across the Green Line into the Muslim-controlled western sector of the Capital. There they placed themselves under the protection of the Palestinian Fatah intelligence service before moving to Zahlé in late October, where they merged with the NLP Tigers’ local cell.
In addition to PLO backing, the Free Tigers also received some support from Syria in 1981, though Hannache seems to have taken sides with the LF Commando force sent to defend Zahlé in that same year, but very little was heard from them afterwards.
Since 2002, several former NLP Tiger commanders known for their right-wing, ultra-nationalist leanings rallied in support of General Michel Aoun and went on to occupy various high positions within the Free Patriotic Current hierarchy, ranging from political (Dr Naji Hayek and Georges Aaraj) to security (Jean Eid and Bob Azzam).
- Damour massacre
- National Liberal Party (Lebanon)
- Lebanese Front
- Lebanese Forces
- Lebanese Civil War
- Safra massacre
- South Lebanon Army
- Tyous Team of Commandos
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