By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
WASHINGTON, July 26, 2006 – The U.S. military today performed its final scheduled evacuation of U.S. citizens from Lebanon, a U.S. military spokesman in Cyprus said. The military has worked with the U.S. State Department and the governments of Turkey and Cyprus for the past 10 days to evacuate U.S. citizens from Lebanon, which has suffered extensive damage in 15 days of conflict between Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah militants.
The military has evacuated almost 14,000 U.S. citizens from Lebanon, Marine Brig. Gen. Carl B. Jensen, commander of Task Force 59, said in a news conference via satellite. The U.S. Embassy in Beirut estimates that the vast majority of U.S. citizens wishing to leave Lebanon have now been evacuated, Jensen said.
The number of Americans coming to the U.S. Embassy in Beirut seeking evacuation has diminished drastically, Jensen said, but U.S. military forces will remain in the country as long as they are needed.
"We will be here as long as the ambassador needs us to do the job that we've been assigned," he said. "We are still participating daily in moving the trickle of Americans now that wish to depart Lebanon out of Beirut, and we are supporting the embassy's efforts to continue to move Americans via civil transport out of southern Lebanon."
A group of 100 U.S. citizens was taken from southern Lebanon to the port city of Tyre today by civilian vehicles, and they will be joining another 110 Americans on a Canadian ship leaving today, Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said. In the last 24 hours, about 725 Americans left Lebanon aboard the contracted vessels Orient Queen and Vittoria M, he added.
Yesterday, the U.S. military dropped off its first load of supplies to assist in the humanitarian effort being led by the United States Agency for International Development, Jensen said. The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which has been on the ground participating in evacuation efforts, has not been assigned to the humanitarian mission yet, but will likely help with transporting supplies, he said.
More than 5,000 U.S. servicemembers have been involved in evacuation efforts in Lebanon, Jensen said. They have been putting in long hours, he said, but added that the mission is valuable and rewarding.
"We've got some awfully tired soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines out here. But, I'll tell you what, it's hard to get really tired in this business, because this is all about Americans helping Americans, and it gives you such a great feeling," Jensen said. "This is, in fact, a labor of love."