Military Focus in Lebanon Shifts to Delivering Humanitarian Relief
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 31, 2006 With almost 15,000 U.S. citizens now departed from Beirut, Lebanon, the U.S. military focus there has shifted to providing humanitarian relief supplies to the population there, Army Lt. Col Mark Ballesteros, a Pentagon spokesman, told American Forces Press Service.
Meanwhile, the Iwo Jima Strike Force, with 2,200 sailors and Marines, remains in place in the region, a senior defense official reported today. The five-ship strike group
includes the Iwo Jima, the USS Nashville, the USS Whidbey Island, the USS Trenton and the High Speed Vessel Swift, as well as the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
The military has worked with the U.S. State Department and the governments of Turkey and Cyprus to evacuate 14,741 Americans from Lebanon, which has suffered extensive damage in the conflict between Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah militants.
As of 11 a.m. today, about 11,350 of the evacuees had arrived safely in the United States, State Department officials reported.
Over the weekend, military aircraft delivered seven addition medical kits to Lebanon over the weekend, in addition to the three others delivered last week. Each kit, large enough to fill a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, contains basic medicines, intravenous fluids, reusable equipment and other medical supplies to treat 10,000 people for three months, Ballesteros said.
The military also delivered another 1,000 tarps and 20,000 blankets, which representatives from the International Committee of the Red Cross and other non-governmental organizations will distribute, according to State Department officials.
Today in Miami, President Bush urged that a multinational force be dispatched to Lebanon quickly to help speed the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Lebanese people.
The president outlined several other clear objectives he said are required to achieve peace in the region. “Lebanon's democratic government must be empowered to exercise sole authority over its territory,” he said. “Iran must end its financial support and supply of weapons to terrorist groups like Hezbollah. Syria must end its support for terror and respect the sovereignty of Lebanon.”
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice returned from the region this weekend and is working to hammer out a lasting cease-fire, the president said.