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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Iwo Jima Strike Group to Lebanon for NEO

Reported here:
The USS Iwo Jima Strike Group and its 2,200 Marines and sailors have been dispatched to help evacuate U.S. citizens from Lebanon, according to the U.S. Navy.

The five-ship strike group and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit are expected to assist with evacuation efforts later this week, the Navy news release says.

The 24th MEU is currently aboard the Iwo Jima along with the amphibious ships USS Nashville and USS Whidbey Island, all of which recently completed exercises in Jordan.

Nine ships, including three from Europe, are expected to take part in the evacuation, said Vice Adm. Patrick Walsh, commander of 5th Fleet.

The plan is to use helicopters and landing craft to transport Americans from Lebanon to amphibious ships in the strike group, Walsh told reporters Tuesday.

The Marines onboard the amphibious ships include a “ground element that we will have in ready reserve in the event that we need them,” Walsh said.
“However we’re very much aware of the movement of weapons into the area and how the situation can change rapidly, so the benefit of having the Marines Expeditionary Unit on board is that we can adjust to changing conditions on the battlefield,” Walsh said.

U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey D. Feltman has said 320 Americans would leave Lebanon by the end of Tuesday and 1,000 the following day.

On Tuesday evening, a Greek cruise ship chartered to evacuate U.S. citizens arrived in Beirut and was expected to leave early Wednesday with between 800 and 1,000 passengers, Walsh said.

Officials are looking to hire four or five additional commercial ships to ferry Americans to Cyprus, said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.

To complement ship evacuations, six helicopters were expected to be part of evacuation efforts by the end of Tuesday, Whitman said. Combined, the helicopters have the capacity to transport up to 300 people per day, he said.
Estimates of 10,000 to 15,000 Americans who want to get out of Lebanon would indicate that this process may take some time given the assets available. Logistics, logistics, logistics. UPDATE: More here, including info on the use of an HSV.

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