Phalange Lebanon

Lance Motley: American Merc Trained Phalange Strike Force in Lebanon

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Editor’s note: Lance Motley was fearless, restless, and always in search of adventure. A West Point graduate who served in the 75th Rangers and the 82nd Airborne, Motley covered the war for SOF in Nicaragua when he imbedded with the Contras in 1987. He was wounded in 1989 while in Burma. He left this statement on tape: “I am a journalist for Soldier of Fortune magazine. I was wounded by a mortar shell. I need help. I need American help. Please do not cut off my leg or arms. Do the best you can.”  Help came, but no one could stop his massive bleeding. He died at the age of 32. The following is his account of being inside Lebanon in 1985, to to train Maronite Christian Phalange Commandos.  

Looking at the well-heeled Lebanese sipping cocktails as the ship sailed from Cyprus, you wouldn’t guess that their destination was the chaotic, war-torn country of Lebanon. I was on my way to train commandos who were fighting for control of that country.

I was hired in Paris by the Maronite Christian Lebanese Forces (otherwise known as the Phalange). My job was to train a new commando unit that was just being organized. Initially, I was leery of the assignment. I imagined that the people I was supposed to train would be undisciplined gangster types, and I didn’t look forward to the headaches I would certainly encounter.

On my arrival in Beirut, I was surprised to find that rather than gangsters, the men I was supposed to train were a well-organized militia valiantly trying to become an army, The Lebanese Forces (LF) had even created an officer academy in the hills overlooking the port of Juniyah and an NCO academy in the Qarantina district of Beirut. I discovered that much of the technical instruction given at these schools is superior to the training offered in the American military. This is largely due to the fact that the LF has access to American, Arab, European and Israeli training materials. Heavy emphasis is given’ not only to handling the weapons but to their mechanical function as well. Since the weapons available to the LF range from AKs to Ml6s and T-55s to Shermans, detailed and thorough training is an absolute necessity.

This was not always the case in the LF. Throughout most of its history, the LF was merely a gang of feuding militias, each loyal to its own leader and political party. After Bashir Gemayel was assassinated by persons unknown (the preponderance of evidence points to the Syrians operating through the pro-Syrian Lebanese Socialist Party), the LF was commanded by Fadi Frem and his intelligence officer Elie Hobieka.

When the Israelis left Lebanon, the LF was left without a mentor. Hobieka tried to fill this gap by making overtures to the Syrians. These overtures, along with the deteriorating discipline of the LF, were too much for a northern commander named Samir Geagea (Geagea was the head of the Lebanese military forces in 2011..ed). Geagea and his troops were largely from the Syrian-occupied north and were a tightly knit and dedicated group. In January 1986, Geagea moved in to take over. Hobieka’s men were no match for Geagea’s smaller but more efficient forces. After a brief fight, Hobieka was allowed to flee with his loyalists to an area under Syrian control.

The new professionalism of the LF is due to Geagea’s vision of a professional army dedicated to the Maronite community rather than loyal to individual warlords.

An incident I observed during one of Geagea’s weekly meetings with his officers illustrates his commitment to creating a disciplined military force. During the meeting he severely dressed down a junior lieutenant in front of the entire LF officer corps for falsifying the number of men under his control.

This is analogous to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs disciplining a second lieutenant during a joint session of Congress for falsifying arms room records. Geagea means business and his officers know it.

I was attached to the Sadem special force (sadem means “strike” in Arabic) for the purpose of training the commando unit.

Sadem specializes in deep strike, hostage rescue and “black” missions and is the most elite unit in the LF. Many of Sadem’s members, however, were loyal to Hobieka and the coup so decimated its numbers that a mere team of men remained with the LF. In fact, the commander of this team was jailed after the coup for suspected Hobieka sympathies.

Not an unreasonable suspicion given the fact that his brother was killed fighting against Geagea. When he was later released he proved his loyalty by remaining in the LF when he could easily have fled to the Hobieka side. In my work with them I found the Sadem team extremely professional and intensely loyal to the Maronite cause -though disappointed at the breakup of their unit.

We started our training with the traditional harassment phase -PT three times a day (morning, evening and at midnight) and basic tactics. Dry runs and live fires were conducted often to teach fire and maneuver and direct assault techniques. Rappelling, swimming and armored personnel carrier tactics (the LF used M ll3s) were also taught.

Sadem’s expertise and experience were impressive and I seldom questioned their tactics, but I had to object to their direct assault technique. Direct assault should only be used as a last resort, such as when you’re caught in an ambush: Then deliver maximum firepower on the run, as you close with the enemy. It’s not accurate, but it may force his head down and give you a chance to survive. The Sadem team tried to solve the inaccuracy problem by having the trainee quick-fire from the shoulder as he toward the enemy. This only slowed the man down, caused him to trip over rocks and, as the live fues demonstrated, didn’t improve accuracy.

While the tactical training was generally excellent, the organization of the program left much to be desired. Instead of preplanning and using a written training schedule, the Sadem commander would decide what was to be taught only the night before the training was to be conducted. This left little time for instructor and material preparation. This caused instructors to give slightly different versions of the same material to the trainees -hardly the way to run a railroad.

Another major problem was the class structure. The LF command decided to put officers and men in separate platoons. This only increased the prevalent officer attitude of superiority. I suggested that the officers be used as squad leaders in each platoon. This would give the young officers leadership experience while increasing camaraderie.

No one seemed to agree.

In their rush to create a commando force, the LF command also placed officers and men into the program in a non-volunteer status and without screening.

The effects of these organizational decisions were immediately apparent -there were mass resignations by the second week and it became clear that more basic training was absolutely necessary. After three weeks, the LF command wisely decided to end the program and provide more basic training to the men by using the officers as instructors. The plan was for the commando program to be reinstituted in four months. I hope that they are successful but, after observing the basic training, I’m doubtful. It consisted mostly of classroom work and parade drill -hardly the training needed for tactically proficient, self-motivated commando candidates.

After the course cancellation, I volunteered to write a complete day-to-day training schedule for a commando course. This task took me about a month and a half. Although I knew it was important, it was pretty boring. Not what I had expected to do in Lebanon. While I was there, the LF was not involved in combat because its Muslim enemies were busy killing each other in west Beirut. Beirut is a city of stark contrasts chaos– and murder in the west and tranquility in the east. This contrast was brought home to me when I visited a friend who lived directly on the Green Line dividing the

Muslim and Christian sectors of the city. From his seventh floor balcony we could clearly see the Amal and Palestinian forces fighting in the streets. As the battle raged below us we drank tea and ate doughnuts, and when we lost interest in the spectacle we went downtown for burgers and a movie. Only in Beirut!

Only once in Lebanon did I think that I would be involved in combat. The month before I arrived, Hobieka tried to invade east Beirut with the help of his Syrian allies. He was turned back only when units of the Lebanese army actively intervened . (According to LF sources, captured Hobiekan loyalists were executed after this attack.) Intelligence sources indicated that Hobieka might try again, so a company of M 113s was stationed at our ,training base as a quick reaction force. One day we received word that the Syrians were attacking LF positions in the mountains. I grabbed my M16 and rode with this force toward the front line . Halfway up the mountain we received a radio call explaining that it was a false alarm. It seems that a Syrian recon patrol ran over an LF mine-hardly a major attack.

Once the program was written, it was time for me to leave Lebanon. What the future holds for the Maronites is unclear. Everyone hopes that Samir Geagea will be able to bring professionalism and purpose to the Lebanese Forces, but after years of corruption and warlords, it won’t be easy. The prevailing attitude seems to be wait and see.

Memories of Lance Motley, from a West Point classmate

“I knew Lance because we shared the same love for playing Army. We both were in the Tactics Club,” recalled Richard Killblane. “Yes, he was enthusiastic and bound to be a hero in battle. I remember him making a comment about hoping our class would have a war because he would hate to return as an instructor with nothing more than an EIB and ARCOM on his chest. We became friends, but that was because I did not have to live with him.”

Killblane also recalled the following.

Like boneheads, several of us gave up our Spring Break to go to Air Assault School. For the 12-mile road march, many cadets started off with good brisk paces far too swift to maintain for 12 miles. Ed Dottery and I set out at a pace we knew we could maintain and began passing the others along the way. Each time we would ask how many cadets were still ahead of us. We finally passed everyone but one cadet. I kept thinking to myself, “I hope it is not Lance.” I wanted to show him how pacing oneself was the better way to do things. Ed and I would fast walk up the hills and jog everything else. We never caught up with Lance, who ended up breaking the record for the fastest time on the course.

The rest of what I heard about Lance came from stories picked up in Honduras in 1984. I felt like I was on the trail of Kurtz in the Joseph Conrad novel, Heart of Darkness.

Lance left the Army at the end of his five year commitment in 1984. I heard from one source that he rode his motorcycle down to El Salvador just to see what the war looked like. Without people trying to kill you, the road conditions in El Salvador were not good for motorcycle riding. Another day while sitting in the mess hall talking with LTC Garcia, and a couple other West Pointers who had known Lance, a sergeant walked in and told Garcia that he met a bearded dark haired guy in Tegucigalpa who told him to tell the colonel hello. We asked if he had sunken eyes and that menacing stare. We determined that it could only be one person, Lance Motley. The next question was what was he doing in Honduras? The sergeant said he was working but could not say what. Well, knowing Lance and the type of work that fit that description, we figured he was training Contras on the border. I thought to myself that he was where he belonged.

After that I lost all contact with him until Tim Deady sent me a newspaper article about his death in Thailand in 1989. At first I felt a sense of loss, but as I thought about it, I realized he died doing what he loved. It was not his first love. That would have been leading American soldiers in battle. Lance was a one of a kind individual. I’ve never met another like him. He lived his life the way he wanted. He traveled to war zones on his own dime and eventually found someone who would pay him to do what he loved. Few people had that kind of courage.

From the October 1987 issue of SOF

About Susan Katz Keating

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