The evacuation of nearly 15,000 American citizens from Lebanon during July and August 2006 was one of the largest overseas evacuations of American citizens in recent history.
The US Department of State has the lead responsibility for evacuating American citizens from overseas locations in times of crisis. However, the size and unforeseen nature of the Lebanon evacuation required the assistance of the Defense Department (DOD).
Specifically, State needed DOD's ability to secure safe passage for American citizens in a war zone, as well as DOD's expertise and resources in providing sea and air transportation for large numbers of people.
State and DOD have several tools to prepare for the evacuation of American citizens in a time of crisis. For example, U.S. embassies world-wide are required to develop Emergency Action Plans (EAP) to prepare for emergencies, take part in periodic crisis management exercises, and develop estimates of the number of American citizens in each country. State and DOD's evacuation of American citizens from Lebanon was an unusually large, complex operation that arose suddenly from an unforeseen international crisis.
On July 12, 2006, Hezbollah terrorists kidnapped two Israeli soldiers at Israel's border with Lebanon. Israel responded the next day with a major military assault, bombing Lebanon's airport in Beirut and forcing its closure, blockading Lebanon's ports, and bombing roads and bridges. On July 14, State and DOD began developing a plan to move American citizens from Beirut to Cyprus with helicopters, U.S. military ships, and contracted commercial ships.
Although small groups of Americans began leaving Beirut by helicopter two days later --July 16, 2006 -- the first large group of Americans did not depart by boat from Beirut to Cyprus until July 19. The thousands of Americans arriving in Cyprus began overwhelming local hotels, which were already at close to peak capacity during the height of the summer tourist season. As a result, State arranged for emergency shelter and asked for DOD's assistance in arranging flights back to the United States.
The last American evacuees departing on U.S. government-arranged flights left Cyprus on August 2, 2006. Though State and DOD's evacuation effort was an overall success, the departments were challenged in several areas.
State and DOD successfully evacuated nearly 15,000 American citizens from a war zone to the United States in less than a month. This significant accomplishment was the result of State and DOD's ability to develop and carry out an evacuation operation within a rapidly evolving context with uncertain information.
Analysts found three key areas where State and DOD faced challenges in evacuating American citizens. First, the magnitude of the Lebanon crisis taxed State's capacity to respond. Second, State did not communicate effectively with the public, including potential evacuees in Lebanon and their family and friends in the United States. Third, State and DOD's different institutional cultures and systems impeded their ability to work together; among other things, these differences resulted in miscommunications and possible delays in chartering ships and planes to evacuate American citizens. State is taking some steps to address these challenges.
Sources: US State Department, Department of Defense, National Security Institute, Government Accounting Office
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.