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U.S. Marines Thank Lebanese Military for Efforts

By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 28, 2007 – The commander of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit today honored the Lebanese army for its assistance in the largest evacuation of U.S. civilians from a foreign country.

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U.S. Marine Corps Col. Ron Johnson presents a scrapbook detailing U.S. and Lebanese evacuation efforts of 15,000 Americans from Lebanon to Brig. Gen. Abdul Hamid Darwich, Lebanese defense attache to the United States, during a Pentagon ceremony March 28. Photo by Carmen Gleason

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In a Pentagon ceremony, U.S. Marine Col. Ron Johnson expressed his appreciation to the Lebanese armed forces for their assistance in evacuating 15,000 Americans from the country in July following an eruption in violence when the militant group Hezbollah kidnapped an Israeli soldier.

“The Lebanese armed forces and international security forces performed superbly and gave us everything we needed to get our mission accomplished,” Johnson said. “I thought it important that our Lebanese friends know just how much we appreciate their cooperation during the evacuation.”

Due to the heightened tension following the kidnapping, the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon authorized the departure of embassy personnel from the country July 15. Since Beirut International Airport had been bombed, military assistance was required to transport U.S. citizens to safety by other means.

Johnson, whose unit was conducting a training exercise in the Jordanian desert at the time, sent a detachment of more than 100 Marines and three helicopters to the island of Cyprus to lay the groundwork for the arrival of the rest of the unit to assist in civilian evacuation efforts.

Within 24 hours, the Marines secured the U.S. Embassy and airlifted the first group of citizens to Cyprus.

The Lebanese military’s assistance was imperative, Johnson said. “We didn’t have access to a port, but the Lebanese not only secured a beach for us, they assisted by providing security along evacuation routes and debarkation points.”

By working with embassy officials and using a combination of aircraft and sea vessels, the 24th MEU and the USS Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group worked to assist 15,000 U.S. citizens to safety within two weeks of the start of evacuation efforts.

“Thanks in no small part to (Lebanese) efforts, the operation concluded without a single loss of life or serious injury,” Johnson said.

“I am very proud to hear such praise from a U.S. officer,” said Brig. Gen. Abdul Hamid Darwich, Lebanese defense attaché to the United States. “It was our duty to get all our American guests out of the country to safety.”

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Click photo for screen-resolution image“You helped us work hours, not days or months, to get our mission accomplished,” said Marine Col. Ron Johnson, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit commander, as he presented a clock to Brig. Gen. Abdul Hamid Darwich, Lebanese defense attache to the United States, during a Pentagon ceremony March 28. Lebanese forces assisted the 24th MEU in evacuating 15,000 Americans to safety in July. Photo by Carmen Gleason  
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