The United States on Thursday gave Lebanon US$10.5 million to train and equip Lebanese soldiers as they take on the task of controlling southern Lebanon, a stronghold of the Hizbullah guerilla group. The grant is part of a US plan worth $40 million to strengthen the Lebanese Army. Thursday's donation was made in an agreement signed by US Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Rodman and Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr. Rodman praised the recent deployment of the Lebanese army in southern Lebanon - a part of the country where it has not served in large numbers for more than three decades owing to the presence of Palestinian and Lebanese guerillas and a political standoff with Israel. The United States wanted "to assist Lebanon in building its capacity to protect its borders and establish sovereignty over all its territory," Rodman said at the ceremony in the minister's office. The deployment in southern Lebanon - where Hizbullah guerrillas seized two Israeli soldiers in July, provoking a 34-day war with the Jewish state - was "an important step toward ensuring that the Lebanese people will never again have to experience the tragedy of war on their territory," Rodman said. "Lebanon is embarked on a historic transformation to sovereignty and independence. In support of this, we are proud to work with the government of Lebanon to ensure that its armed forces are trained and equipped to serve and 'protect the Lebanese people," Rodman added. Rodman later met Prime Minister Fuad Saniora to discuss US military assistance to Lebanon as well as local and regional developments, the official National News Agency reported. It said Rodman also discussed support for the Lebanese army with its commander, Gen. Michel Suleiman. Some 16,000 Lebanese troops have deployed in southern Lebanon in recent weeks in compliance with the UN cease-fire resolution that ended Israel's offensive in Lebanon on Aug. 14. A UN peacekeeping force of 15,000 troops is to be deployed in southern Lebanon under the same resolution. So far 6,000 UN troops have arrived. To support the Lebanese government, and its deployment of troops in the south, the United States has pledged to provide the Lebanese military with more than $40 million worth of vehicles, ammunition, training, and spare parts for equipment.