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Noncombatant evacuation operations (NEOs) are conducted to evacuate civilian noncombatants and nonessential military personnel from locations in a foreign (host) nation during time of endangerment to a designated safehaven. NEOs are normally conducted to evacuate United States (US) citizens whose lives are in danger from a hostile environment or natural disaster. NEOs may also include the evacuation of US military personnel and dependents, selected citizens of the host nation (HN), and third country nationals. NEOs would not normally include retrograde operations of military personnel solely as part of a military operation. NEOs involve swift, temporary occupancy of an objective and end with planned withdrawals. They may include the use of force. If so, the commander limits the amount of force to that required to protect the evacuees and the evacuation force.

Every US embassy is required to maintain an emergency action plan (EAP), which includes an NEO plan. The Department of State is the lead agency for planning and conducting NEOs. NEO plans consider HN assets as the primary source of security, transportation, and temporary facilities. If HN assets are inadequate or unavailable, US military resources are used to fill the shortfall. If military forces are employed in a NEO, they usually comprise units from more than one service. The combatant commander (commander in chief (CINC), on being ordered to support a NEO, normally designates a joint task force (JTF) commander to exercise overall control of operations involved in the NEO. He is responsible for all activities, from initial planning and deployment to an intermediate staging base (ISB), to conduct of the evacuation and, if required, operation of the safehaven.

Evacuation operations differ from other military operations in that direction of the operation will usually remain with the American ambassador, if present, at the time of evacuation. Further, the order to evacuate is usually a political decision, with extensive ramifications. It indicates to the local population and other governments that the situation has deteriorated to the point that the United States has lost faith in the HN's ability to maintain control of the situation. This, in turn, may further destabilize the situation.

Requesting military assistance in an evacuation is potentially more destabilizing. The presence of armed US troops may overly alarm the local population, adding to the possibility of unnecessary violence and confusion. Should circumstances require introduction of US troops, the commander should plan for early execution of psychological operations (PSYOP) to project and define his intentions to the HN government, military, and populace. (See Appendix A for PSYOP guidance.) Although each embassy will have an EAP, the commander should not automatically assume its data is accurate and up to date. Prior coordination and site survey will probably have been restricted.

The commander must be prepared to deal with the situation as it exists at the time of evacuation. The Department of State determines the evacuation sites and timing of the operation. Evacuations can be politically sensitive and are monitored, if not controlled, from the highest level.

Military units aiding in the evacuation of US and other noncombatants whose welfare is threatened must protect themselves and their charges throughout the evacuation. As a situation develops, the unit secures assembly areas and an evacuation site, establishes defensive perimeters, and locates and escorts evacuees. Protecting the force and its charges may include establishing physical barriers to protect assembly areas and evacuation sites. Crowd-control agents and tactics and employment of tactical PSYOP teams (TPTs) may be necessary to extract evacuees or discourage hostilities. Dissemination and enforcement of clearly defined rules of engagement (ROE) are critical. Although the objective is not to destroy enemy forces and armed conflict should be avoided whenever possible, it may become necessary.

The HN government, military, and general populace must be advised of the ROE and intent of US and multinational forces. Well-publicized intentions preclude operation interference. Civil affairs (CA) and PSYOP forces are trained and equipped to develop, produce, and disseminate information that conveys the commander's mission in the language of the country of operation.

The situation will probably be such that the evacuation force commander may have to defend the evacuation from hostile forces without first informing higher authorities. Thus, if given the opportunity, the evacuation force commander must influence the ROE to provide maximum leeway to the NEO force so as not to unduly restrain use of force where necessary. (See sample ROE in Appendix B.)

An evacuation may end with a withdrawal under pressure. A worst-case example is the evacuation of the US Embassy in Saigon in 1975. Evacuation may be by land, air, or sea, using convoys, rail, fixed- or rotary-wing aircraft, ferryboats, or ships. Helicopter or boats may ferry evacuees to ships standing offshore.


Pursuant to Executive Order 12656, the Department of State is responsible for the protection and evacuation of American citizens abroad and for safeguarding their property. This order also directs the Department of Defense (DOD) to advise and assist the Department of State in preparing and implementing plans for the evacuation of US citizens.

The chief of mission (COM), after approval by the Department of State's Under Secretary for Management, can order the evacuation of US government personnel and dependents, and other than "wartime essential" DOD personnel assigned to military commands. Evacuation transportation options, in order of preference, are (1) scheduled commercial transportation, (2) commercial charter, (3) US military charter, and (4) US military transportation. Transportation options must be coordinated through the Washington Liaison Group (WLG) (discussed in Chapter 2).

The following personnel can be ordered to depart and are eligible for evacuation assistance. Once evacuated, they may not return until approved by the Department of State and the chief of mission. Personnel in this category are as follows:

  • American civilian employees of US government agencies, except mission essential DOD employees of military commands.

  • US military personnel assigned to the embassy (such as Marine security guards, defense attaché, and security assistance personnel).

  • Peace Corps volunteers.

  • American citizens employed on contract to a US government agency if the contract so provides.

  • Dependents of those above.

  • Dependents of other US military personnel, including those assigned to military commands.

The following personnel cannot be ordered to depart but are entitled to evacuation assistance. They may return at their discretion and at their expense. These personnel are--

  • Americans employed by non-US government organizations.

  • Americans employed by or assigned to international organizations.

  • Americans employed on contract directly by the host government, even if the contract is funded by the US government.

  • Americans employed by private entities, such as relief organizations, even though the employer may receive some US government funding.

  • Fulbright grantees and private American citizens.

  • Family members of private American citizens, to include alien spouses, children, and other bona fide residents of the household.

  • Other individuals designated by Department of State.

Legal permanent US residents (green card holders) are not entitled to any special assistance unless they fall into one of the above categories.

As a rule, if the US government is controlling the evacuation, the priorities for assistance are as follows:

  • Priority I: American citizens.

  • Priority II: Alien immediate family members of American citizens.

  • Priority III: Third country national and designated foreign service national employees of the US government.

  • Priority IV: Eligible non-Americans who are seriously ill or injured or whose lives are in imminent peril as determined by Department of State (but who do not qualify for a higher priority).

  • Priority V: Others that are eligible as determined by Department of State.


The military command tasked with conducting a NEO tailors its planning and action for evacuation assistance according to the anticipated situation. The three operational environments that the military may face in evacuation operations are permissive, uncertain, and hostile. These environments may exist due to an unfavorable political environment, conflict, or natural disaster in the host nation.

In a permissive environment, there is no apparent physical threat to evacuees. The host government will not oppose their orderly departure or US military assistance. Military assistance is normally limited to medical, logistics, military police (MP) or other security, and transportation. Security forces are tailored to what is required to protect military property and personnel. Depending on the political situation in the HN, however, the JTF commander may elect to have a reaction force on standby to respond rapidly if the environment becomes less permissive.

Military assistance maybe required because of a natural or man-made disaster or because of inadequate transportation facilities. US military support could then involve engineer units or contractors. Local law enforcement agencies may request MP or other US military forces to assist in maintaining and restoring order. During Operation Fiery Vigil, June 1991, 20,000 US military personnel and dependents were evacuated from Clark Air Force Base and Subic Bay, Philippines, because of the eruption of Mount Pinatubo. Although not popular with the local population, this evacuation was unopposed and took place in a permissive environment.

In an uncertain environment, the degree of danger is uncertain. The host government may or may not be in control but cannot ensure the safety of US citizens. Because of the uncertainty, the JTF commander may elect to reinforce the evacuation force with additional security units and TPTs. The need for a reaction force becomes more important. Opposed entry operations may be required. In this environment, the JTF commander will probably elect to issue weapons and ammunition to evacuation force personnel. The ROE must be disseminated early enough to ensure troops are trained, and they must be strictly enforced to avoid escalation of hostilities. Advising the local populace, combatant and noncombatant, of the ROE and the intent of US or multinational forces decreases the likelihood of interference and inadvertent escalation of hostilities due to misunderstanding.

In January 1991, when US Marines were ordered to execute Operation Eastern Exit, the evacuation of Mogadishu, Somalia, the civil war had escalated to the point that the Somali government could not guarantee the safety of evacuees and the evacuation force.

In a hostile environment, host government or other forces are expected to oppose evacuation and US military assistance. The JTF commander may elect to deploy a sizable security element with the evacuation force. He may position a large reaction force either with the evacuation force or at an ISB. Opposed entry operations may be required. The ROE must be strictly enforced.

Regardless of the environment at the operation's onset, the commander must plan for the possibility that it may change. Volatile situations that would trigger a NEO also provide ripe environments for spontaneous or organized violence. Unfortunately, US citizens are often direct or indirect targets of this violence. Prior to the evacuation of Monrovia, Liberia, in August 1990, factions that had been ambivalent toward the United States suddenly threatened to take hostages. This is an example of an uncertain environment that became hostile.

The most volatile situation will occur when a major US ally, where substantial US government and nongovernment personnel are stationed, comes under direct attack and major US forces are involved. While the process for evacuation may remain the same, the nature will likely change. Control of the evacuation may pass from the ambassador to the military commander. Evacuation will not be the focus of military operations in the country. Mission, enemy, terrain, troops, and time available (METT-T) may cause large adjustments. The evacuation commander may have to rely on retrograde transportation, as opposed to dedicated assets. The urgency for completing the evacuation will increase.

All commanders must be prepared to deal with large numbers of displaced civilians and noncombatants, both US and other. This makes the presence of CA units critical along with the possible requirement to setup and operate temporary holding camps. The mission of the evacuation force is to safeguard and evacuate US citizens. The force should avoid engaging in combat operations whenever possible. Execution of PSYOP during the earliest phases of the NEO will minimize the potential for hostilities. If combat is unavoidable, the commander should use the minimum force required to ensure the safety of his command and its charges.

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