The U.S. military is assisting with sea and air evacuations of American citizens wishing to leave Lebanon because of the fighting there.
U.S. authorities in Cyprus are expecting to evacuate at least 5,000 Americans from Lebanon and are preparing for any contingency.
A contract ship, the Orient Queen, has docked in Beirut to evacuate U.S. citizens. The ship will take on passengers overnight and depart early morning July 19 for Cyprus.
The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Gonzalez is providing security for the Greek ocean liner, which will hold approximately 800 to 1,000 passengers for the five-hour voyage to Cyprus.
Nine U.S. ships are en route to the area, six from the USS Iwo Jima expeditionary strike group in the U.S. Central Command region and three from the U.S. European Command region. The first ship will arrive tomorrow and the rest of the ships will arrive during the course of the week.
In addition to the Orient Queen, two more contract ships will be part of the ferrying activity between Beirut and Cyprus. The Ramah will arrive in Cyprus, the headquarters of Task Force 59, and begin ferrying refugees thereafter. The Ramah has a capacity of about 1,400. Marine Brig. Gen. Carl Jensen is commanding the task force.
Currently the threat level in Beirut allows the Navy to ferry Americans to Cyprus with commercial vessels. However, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command is prepared for any contingency and ready for operations over an extended period of time. Vice Adm. Patrick M. Walsh is the commander.
U.S. Navy vessels, especially large-capacity amphibious ships, are expected to participate in the evacuation. Amphibious ships are designed to conduct beach landings, and are frequently used for humanitarian operations and disaster relief.
In addition, six CH-53 helicopters are also evacuating citizens, mainly those with special needs, from the U.S. embassy compound in Beirut. Three of these helicopters are from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and three are from U.S. forces based in the United Kingdom.
These citizens are also being delivered to Cyprus, which is about 138 land (statute) miles from Lebanon. DoD is building to a capacity of 300 people evacuated by air per day, and will increase the number if needed.