Pentagon producer Luis Martinez blogs about how this could happen:
Pentagon officials say it's just "prudent military planning" to have options available should the violence in Lebanon deteriorate further and it becomes necessary to evacuate the 25,000 Americans who live there. It's important to stress that NO operational orders or movements have gone out to any military assets near Lebanon. Right now, military planners are just providing options as they would for any other hot spot around the world. (At left, people search for survivors in Lebanon today.)
One option military planners are mulling is the old refrain "send in the Marines."
(FYI: Here come the military acronyms)
Some recent evacuation missions -- like Liberia in 2003 -- have involved Marines helicoptering American citizens to their support vessels located offshore. The Marines can do this because -- at any given time -- there are usually at least 2 pre-positioned Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU's) of 2,200 men. They travel with all the gear they need aboard 3 ships called an Amphibious Ready Group (ARG's.) These 3 ships usually include an Amphibious Assault ship -- which for all intents and purposes is a helicopter carrier with enough large-sized transport helicopters to conduct an evacuation mission. (At right, U.S. Marines land in Liberia in 2003.)
As of right now the nearest MEU -- the 24th MEU -- just left the Mediterranean Sea last week and is now in the Red Sea. They're aboard the USS Iwo Jima (an Amphibious Assault ship), the USS Nashville and the USS Whidbey Island.
If the Marines were indeed to receive orders to assist with an evacuation, it would still take them a while to get there -- given the sea distances they'd need to travel. Furthermore, the Marines are currently participating in an exercise in Jordan.
Another option military planners are mulling is to send European-based military transport helicopters to Cyprus, which is about 100 miles off Lebanon's shores. These helicopters would ferry any personnel that needed to be evacuated to Cyprus. The bombing of the runways at Beirut's Airport makes charter flights unfeasible right now. (At left, the airport Thursday.)