Air Force ready to help with Lebanon evacuations

  • Published
  • By Louis A. Arana-Barradas
  • Air Force Print News
Airmen are ready on the East Coast to fly in at a moment's notice to help with the movement of Americans fleeing the chaos in Lebanon.

A group of Airmen from one of three contingency response groups at McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., is ready to deploy where needed -- if needed, a base spokesman said. Most of the Airmen are at home with their families awaiting the orders to go, he said.

"They're all on telephone standby and can be ready to launch at a moment's notice," the spokesperson said. "If called, they should be at their location within the next 24 hours."

The group's equipment is packed "and sitting on the tarmac" on the base flightline ready for quick upload into transport aircraft, he said. The base has C-17 Globemaster III aircraft that, with aerial refueling, can fly from the East Coast base directly to most locations in the Middle East.

At the Pentagon, Air Force spokesperson Maj. Brenda Campbell said there is no final word yet on where the group will go.

But it is likely the rapid-response group will deploy to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. The U.S. military has already sent a communications team to Cyprus, a U.S. Central Command official said. And Marine Corps helicopters have also been transporting Americans to the island.

Other nations are using Cyprus as the drop off point for the people leaving Lebanon, and ships chartered by the United States and other nations have already taken several hundred Americans to the island.

American embassy officials in Lebanon said they expect about 5,000 of the more than 25,000 Americans in the country will want to leave.

Foreign nationals have been leaving from Lebanon's under-fire capital of Beirut for several days. People started fleeing as soon as Israeli jets flew air strikes against locations in Lebanon aimed at quelling Hezbollah rocket fire into Israel and when Israel demanded the return of Israeli soldiers captured by the militant group.

At this time, the Air Force response is to facilitate the movement of noncombatants from the country, Major Campbell said. She said Central Command will direct all U.S. military operations in support of the movements. The military response is part of the larger Department of Defense support to the U.S. State Department.

"We're still working the details on how we will get Americans out of the country," the major said. "And, for now, that's all we have planned."

Contingency response groups are well suited for such operations. These are rapid-reaction units that fly into a location to set up all facets of airfield operations. Used for contingency and humanitarian operations, groups have Airmen from a host of critical specialties that can land and jump-start operations.