24th MEU helps 64 Americans evacuate Lebanon
July 18, 2006
Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit evacuated 43 Americans from Lebanon on Monday as part of ongoing evacuation efforts, officials said.
Currently, there are three CH-53 Super-Stallion helicopters in Cyprus ferrying U.S. citizens out of Lebanon with more such helicopters expected to arrive Tuesday, said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.
Additionally, the Navy is sending the destroyer USS Gonzalez to escort a Greek commercial ship contracted to ferry U.S. citizens from Lebanon to Cyprus, Whitman said.
The Greek ship is capable of transporting 750 passengers at one time, and will be available for evacuation efforts starting Tuesday, he said.
Evacuation efforts began Sunday when two CH-53 helicopters with the 24th MEU flew from Jordan to Beirut to take 21 American personnel to Cyprus, according to the Marine Corps.
A team of more than 100 Marines landed in Cyprus “to prepare for Sunday’s mission and lay the groundwork for follow-on operations, should they be needed,” a 24th MEU news release says.
Composed of 2,200 Marines and sailors, the 24th MEU is currently sailing with the USS Iwo Jima’s three-ship strike group, which is now in Jordan, having completed exercises with the Jordanian military, officials said.
The three ships in the MEU are preparing to get under way to head north to the Suez Canal should they be called in at the request of the State Department, a Defense official said on Monday.
Whitman said the Defense Department has other assets available to do the job.
“Right now we are still working with the State Department and looking at what the requirements will be in assisting with the departure of American citizens from Lebanon,” said Lt. Cmdr. Charlie Brown, a spokesman for 5th Fleet.
According to Marine officials, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman decided on Saturday to formally ask the military for assistance in moving the U.S. citizens out of harm’s way.
Israeli airstrikes have closed the Beirut airport and a naval blockade has stopped many ships from leaving. Cyprus is about an hour’s flight west of Lebanon; both are popular tourist destinations. State Department officials have said that approximately 8,000 Americans have informed the department they are living or working in Lebanon.
On Saturday, the U.S. Embassy in Beirut advised Americans in Lebanon that those who wanted to leave would have to pay for their transportation out of the country.
“For the portion of the trip directly handled by the U.S. Government, Americans will be asked to sign a promissory note and will be billed at a later date,” the July 15 advisory says.
This is standard operation procedure, a State Department official said Monday.
The official said she did not know how much each evacuee would have to pay but added, “No one will be turned away because they cannot produce funds.”