Lebanon evacuation nearly finished, general says
July 25, 2006
LARNACA, Cyprus — The commander in charge of the effort to get Americans out of Lebanon said Monday that almost everyone who wants to leave the country has already been pulled out, and the military will soon begin a significant withdrawal.
“It appears almost all of the Americans who wish to depart Lebanon have departed,” said Marine Brig. Gen. Carl Jensen, commander of Task Force 59.
By Monday evening, more than 12,000 Americans had been pulled out of Lebanon in a week, more than two-thirds of them by military assets, Jensen told Stars and Stripes.
Most were taken out via the island nation of Cyprus, though about 1,600 were taken through ports in Turkey, he said.
The effort reached a crescendo at the end of last week, when up to 4,000 were being evacuated daily, but on Monday “There were only a few hundreds of Americans that chose to leave,” Jensen said.
With the flow of people leaving the embattled country ebbing, the military soon will be pulling out, he said.
Jensen said the situation was still too fluid to give specifics on which units will be going where, but said substantial drawdown of operations was imminent.
“I would anticipate some immediate drawdown in the days to come,” Jensen said.
Some assets would remain in the area to “keep our powder dry,” he said, but could not comment on what the immediate future held for some of the Task Force’s major pieces.
U.S. military units involved in the evacuation include: the USS Iwo Jima Strike Group and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, with 2,200 Marines and sailors; three U.S. Navy ships currently assigned to Naval Forces Europe, including two guided-missile destroyers; Air Force C-130s and C-17s; the Air Force’s 352nd Special Operations Group from England; and medical personnel from Ramstein Air Base and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, both in Germany.
“The immediate fate of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and the Iwo Jima Strike Group has not been determined yet,” he said.
By the start of the week, the burden of Americans and other evacuees on Cyprus had been reduced, Jensen said, meaning that the need for flights of C-17 Globemaster IIIs would be reduced “dramatically,” by midweek.
The flights have been used since Saturday to take Americans from Cyprus to Ramstein and points onward.
“Every day, more Americans are leaving than are coming in,” he said.
In the meantime, the U.S. State Department will continue efforts to pull more Americans out of southern Lebanon. Five hundred Americans had been evacuated from the area since the start of fighting in the area early last week, Jensen said.