Lebanon Non-combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) 2006
The United States began to evacuate some citizens from Lebanon on July 16, 2006. On July 17, two Marine Corps CH-53E Sea Stallion helicopters aided in the voluntary departure of 42 American citizens from the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. The citizens were flown to Royal Air Force Base Akrotiri in Cyprus.
The Marine helicopters are part of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) currently in the middle of a six-month deployment to the European and Central Command theaters of operation. US citizens that are being flown out via helicopter are the elderly, those with small children and special medical needs.
Sixty more people were airlifted from the US Embassy on July 18. The six Marine Corps CH-53E Sea Stallion helicopters will continue to ferry special needs people out of Beirut. The Department of Defense hoped to evacuate approximately 300 people by air per day. Around 200 people were evacuated by air on July 19.
On July 17, the Pentagon announced that it had chartered a cruise ship, Orient Queen, to evacuate US citizens. The Orient Queen docked in Beirut on July 18 and left the 19th with about 900 people on board. She reached Cyprus in the early morning of the 20th. The ship was being escorted by the USS Gonzalez (DDG 66). The Orient Queen has a capacity of around 800, and will ferry evacuees from Beirut to Larnaca, Cyprus.
Also on July 17, U.S. Sailors and Marines from the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) have been directed to assist in the authorized departure of American citizens from Lebanon. The ESG and MEU are operating in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations and expect to be in place to provide assistance later this week.
The Iwo Jima Strike Group includes the amphibious ships Iwo Jima, USS Nashville (LPD 13) and USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41). USS Trenton (LPD 14) and High Speed Vessel Swift (HSV 2) have also joined the strike group.
In addition to The Iwo Jima Strike Group and USS Gonzales, three more US ships from European Command also assisted. These ships were the USS Barry (DDG 52), USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20), and USNS Big Horn (T-AO 198). The USS Nashville, USS Barry, and USS Mount Whitney arrived on station on July 19.
The commander of US Naval Forces Central Command indicated that people were evacuated on US Navy ships as well as the chartered cruise ships. USS Nashville was the second ship to reach Beirut. It has the capacity to carry up to 1,000 people and began loading passengers on July 20.
According to an American student evacuated onboard a Norweigen-chartered ferry, US Navy SEALS pulled along side the ferry and delivered food to the 127 Americans onboard.
About 7,000 Americans were expected to be evacuated July 19-20. There are an estimated 25,000 Americans living in Lebanon. It is unknown how many will wish to leave, but officials said that they will evacuate whoever wishes to leave.
On July 18, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice decided to waive the fees the evacuees would have had to pay the government.
On July 20, 341 Americans were evacuated out of Southern Lebanon, via a bus convoy, and taken to Beirut Harbor to board the Orient Queen.
Also on the 20th, A group of U.S. Marines from Interim Marine Corps Security Force (IMCSF) Bahrain arrived in Beirut to provide security for the commercial vessel Orient Queen as it assisted with the voluntary departures of U.S. citizens. The IMCSF coordinated the security aboard the Navy-contracted ship and worked to ensure the safe and orderly transport of each passenger who boards the vessel. The Marine security team, along with the help of Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), also screened passenger luggage prior to loading it on the vessel.
A Landing Craft Utility (LCU) operated by Sailors assisting the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) landed in Lebanon, July 20, to begin transporting American citizens who have chosen to depart that country. The LCU deployed from USS Nashville (LPD 13) and is the first U.S. naval vessel to land in Lebanon in support of the voluntary departure of U.S. civilians.
At the request of the U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon and at the direction of the Secretary of Defense, U.S. Navy ships and Marine personnel are assisting with the secure and orderly departure of American citizens departing the country.
The Marines deployed from USS Nashville as part of Commander, Task Force 59. American citizens boarded the LCUs and were transported to USS Nashville in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Nashville will then transport the Americans to Cyprus where they can make further arrangements for follow-on transportation and accommodations. The LCU can carry an estimated 300 personnel and Nashville has the capability to accommodate between 1,000 and 1,200 passengers.
More U.S. Sailors and Marines from the USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) arrived on station July 21 to assist in the authorized departure of American citizens from Lebanon.
Under the direction of Commander, Task Force 59, Marine Brig. Gen. Carl Jensen, naval assets have been transporting American citizens from Lebanon to Cyprus. CH-53 helicopters from the 24th MEU have been flying several flights a day since July 16 from Lebanon to Cyprus. July 20, USS Nashville (LPD 13) began using utility landing craft (LCU) to move approximately 1,000 American citizens wishing to depart Lebanon from the beach to the ship. USS Gonzales (DDG 66) and USS Barry (DDG 52) have been escort ships for the chartered civilian ships transporting citizens to Cyprus.
The addition of Iwo Jima, USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41) and USS Trenton (LPD 14) significantly increases the ESG's capability to quickly move American citizens out of Lebanon
On July 21, the USS Trenton, the USS Whidbey Island and the contract carrier Rahmah to carried around 4,200 American citizens to safety. The Navy ships carried evacuees to Cyprus, and the Rahmah carried roughly 1,400 Americans to Mersin, Turkey. Cypriot officials said they expected roughly 60,000 evacuees of all nationalities in the country, and the evacuation was straining its resources. Turkey offered the seaport of Mersin as an overflow area. Once American evacuees arrived in Mersin, they were bus to nearby Incirlik Air Base, where the State Department has chartered air lines to transport them back to the United States.
The Defense Logistics Agency assisted with the evacuation effort by immediately shipping 24,000 individual military meals by military air to Cyprus. The agency also provided 2,000 cots and blankets and ensured fuel is available for U.S. military planes and vessels involved in the evacuation.
On July 23, the total number of Americans evacuated from Lebanon reached 10,000. A total of 3,994 American citizens left Lebanon on the 22nd. Navy and contract ships lifted 1,815 from the embattled country on the 23rd. The USS Whidbey Island transported 792, and the contract carriers Orient Queen and Rahmah took 983 and 933 Americans, respectively, to Cyprus. DoD was also involved in transporting Americans back to the United States.
U.S. Transportation Command arranged commercial and military aircraft to fly the evacuees. On July 22, two military flights transported 199 Americans to McGuire Air Force Base, N.J. Chartered commercial flights took evacuees to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and Philadelphia International Airport.
On July 24, 957 U.S. citizens were evacuated from Lebanon to Cyprus aboard the contracted cruise ship Orient Queen, bringing the total to 12,870 since the crisis in Lebanon began July 16.
On July 25, the contract vessel Rahmah ended its contract period with the U.S. effort and made its final run from Beirut to Cyprus
On July 26, a group of 100 U.S. citizens were taken from southern Lebanon to the port city of Tyre by civilian vehicles, and they joined another 110 Americans leaving on a Canadian ship. About 725 Americans left Lebanon aboard the contracted vessels Orient Queen and Vittoria M.
On July 26, the U.S. military performed its final scheduled evacuation of U.S. citizens from Lebanon. The military has evacuated almost 14,000 U.S. citizens from Lebanon. The U.S. Embassy in Beirut estimates that the vast majority of U.S. citizens wishing to leave Lebanon had now been evacuated. The Ocean Queen, the contracted vessel Vittoria M, and the Swift, a high-speed vessel manned by U.S. Navy personnel, will continue to make runs into Beirut evacuating American citizens or delivering humanitarian supplies. The USS Nashville, USS Trenton, USS Whidbey Island, USS Mount Whitney, USS Gonzalez, USS Barry and the Swift -- part of the USS Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group -- remained in the region.
LHD 1 Wasp conducted a "surge deployment" from her Norfolk, Va., homeport 25 August 2006 to support JTF Lebanon. Even with the short notice, according to Commanding Officer, Capt. Todd Miller, his crew was more than ready "get on station and to complete the mission." Nearly 1,300 Sailors aboard Wasp, including a detachment from Mine Countermeasure Squadron (HM) 14, Assault Craft Units (ACU) 2 and 4, and a Fleet Medical Team, deployed to support a Request for Forces (RFF) from U.S. European Command.
When USS Wasp arrived in the joint operation area (JOA) 06 September 2006, she not only officially joined Joint Task Force Lebanon, but also became the command platform for the maritime component commander. Capt. John Nowell, commander of Task Force "Bravo," controled all U.S. maritime assets in the JTF Lebanon JOA from Wasp, including USS Barry (DDG 52), USS Hue City (CG 66) and USNS Kanawha (T-AO 196). Nowell headed to the Wasp because of the command and control capabilities she possesses," said just before departing USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20), the JTF Lebanon flagship. As tactical commander, both from a command and control perspective, as well as being on the unit that can head to the beach if needed, it's a great multipurpose platform. The arrival of Wasp also allowed the forward-deployed Mount Whitney to return to her Gaeta, Italy, homeport for the second time since being on station in the JOA shortly after the crisis began in mid-July.
Commander, JTF Lebanon Vice Adm. J. "Boomer" Stufflebeem, created Task Force Bravo to provide maritime support to the American embassy in Beirut. Since the Middle East crisis between Israel and Hezbollah militants began in mid-July, the "sea bridge" provided by Department of Defense (DoD) assets has helped nearly 15,000 American citizens safely depart Lebanon, while assisting in the distribution of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to the Lebanese people.
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