By Jim Garamone
WASHINGTON, Aug. 17, 2006 – U.S. European Command will assume command of U.S. military forces operating off the coast of Lebanon and in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, the organization's commander said here today. Marine General James L. Jones, speaking at a Pentagon news conference, said European Command elements will assume command of the operations in that area from U.S. Central Command Aug. 23.
European Command has supported U.S. Central Command in the effort. Central Command originally received the mission because Lebanon is in that organization's assigned area of operations. But Central Command also is responsible for operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa. This change will allow Central Command assets to go to other duties.
Israel is in European Command's area of operations, and the command will need to work closely with European nations as events unfurl. "We will be working with the U.S. Central Command and, by the end of the month, we will effect the handover of responsibility," Jones said. Military forces in the region are assuring the evacuation of American citizens and, if need be, the U.S. embassy. They also are assisting in humanitarian activities. "Beyond that, we have no additional instructions," Jones said.
Jones also announced today that Navy Vice Admiral John Stufflebeem, commander of U.S. 6th Fleet, has been named as the joint task force commander. He replaces Vice Adm. Pat Walsh, 5th Fleet commander. To date, 14,876 Americans have evacuated Lebanon. "All things are proceeding normally, and we await further developments and further mission taskings as they might come down," Jones said.