WASHINGTON, July 21, 2006 – Military aircraft and sea vessels will evacuate more than 4,000 Americans from Lebanon today, DoD officials said. Officials expect the USS Trenton, the USS Whidbey Island and the contract carrier Rahmah to carry around 4,200 American citizens to safety, Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Gary Keck said. The Navy ships will carry evacuees to Cyprus, and the Rahmah will carry roughly 1,400 Americans to Mersin, Turkey.
Cypriot officials said they expect roughly 60,000 evacuees of all nationalities in the country, and the evacuation is straining its resources. Turkey has offered the seaport of Mersin as an overflow area. Once American evacuees arrive in Mersin, they will bus to nearby Incirlik Air Base, where the State Department will have chartered air lines to transport them back to the United States.
In the last 24 hours, slightly more than 2,100 Americans reached safety in Cyprus, Keck said. Most arrived on the island nation aboard the USS Nashville. The last ship to join the evacuation flotilla is the fast ferry Vittoria M, an Italian-flagged contract carrier. It is scheduled to arrive in the next 24 hours, Keck said.
Almost all assets to be used in evacuating U.S. citizens are now in theater, Keck said. With the addition of the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group, U.S. officials have the capability of transporting 7,000 evacuees a day. Keck said the ships and aircraft will remain in place until all Americans who want to have left the combat zone.
Around 6,100 American servicemembers are participating in the operation -- about 5,900 ashore and the rest in Beirut and Cyprus. The Defense Logistics Agency is assisting with the evacuation effort by immediately shipping 24,000 individual military meals by military air to Cyprus. The agency also is providing 2,000 cots and blankets and ensuring fuel is available for U.S. military planes and vessels involved in the evacuation.