EUCOM to take charge of Lebanon evacuation, relief efforts
Stars and Stripes August 18, 2006
U.S. European Command will take charge of evacuation and relief efforts in Lebanon, said Marine Gen. James L. Jones Jr., supreme allied commander, Europe, and head of NATO.
EUCOM, which until now has been playing a supporting role in such efforts, will take over responsibility for the mission from U.S. Central Command by the end of the month, Jones told reporters in Washington on Thursday.
“The mission continues to be unchanged, and that is to assure the assisted departure of American citizens — and if need be the U.S Embassy — and to assist in humanitarian activities within the means and capabilities that we currently have, but beyond that we have no additional instructions,” he said.
CENTCOM initially took the lead for the mission because the command is responsible for Lebanon, Jones said. Now it makes sense for EUCOM to take the lead because it has relationships with the European countries that will be providing the bulk of the U.N. peacekeeping force that is heading to southern Lebanon.
So far, EUCOM has not been tasked with supporting peacekeeping troops, he said.
Jones said another reason for the change is, “CENTCOM is really, really pretty busy in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
In July, war broke out between Hezbollah and Israel, and the U.S. military diverted some of its naval, air and ground assets to the region to help evacuate U.S. citizens from Lebanon.
EUCOM will set up Joint Task Force–Lebanon, made up of assets from U.S. Navy’s 6th Fleet and led by Vice Adm. John Stufflebeem.
As of Thursday, the sole naval asset is the USS Mount Whitney, a command and control ship that serves as the 6th Fleet’s flagship and is based in Gaeta, Italy. It left Gaeta on Thursday and is headed to the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
There was no plan as of Thursday for ground forces to be sent to the area, a U.S. military official said.
The fighting that erupted July 12 has killed more than 1,000 people, mostly civilians in Lebanon and Israel, according to media reports.
JTF–Lebanon will replace CENTCOM’s Task Force–59, which had been based in Cyprus. No decision has been made as to whether the task force will keep operating from Cyprus or use solely the Mount Whitney.
“This task force is in place to be prepared for the next phase, which we are assuming will be humanitarian assistance,” said Pat Mackin, a EUCOM spokesman. “We just want to be postured so that we’re in a good position if directed by the [Defense Department].”
The U.S. task force is not part of the developing United Nations peacekeeping force, Mackin said.