According to the AP, U.S. security teams have arrived at our Embassy in Beirut, the first step in a massive non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) of 25,000 Americans and dependents from Lebanon.
Any operation of this type is extremely complex--and made more so by on-going combat operations in Lebanon. The upcoming evacation from Lebanon will be one of the biggest NEOs in U.S. military history, and the number of U.S. citizens and dependents who leave the country will likely exceed original estimates. In the NEO business, the experts at the State Department and the Pentagon use the "rule of three" in planning the evacuation. Put another way, if there are25,000 "known" Americans, there are many more the State Department isn't aware of. Using the rule of three, the final number of U.S. citizens and dependents evacuated from Lebanon could top 70,000.
Getting those folks to safety is a massive logistical and security undertaking. First, U.S. diplomats will establish rally points, where evacuees can gather. From there, they will move by overland convoys to departure points, probably the Port of Beirut. With the city's airport currently closed by Israeli airstrikes, the job of picking up the refugees will likely fall on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps helicopters, operating from amphibious vessels and aircraft carriers in the eastern Mediterranean. If conditions permit, smaller vessels (such as landing craft) will move evacuees directly from piers, or even the open beach.
The NEO will take place literally under Hizbollah guns in Lebanon--and that's where the process becomes dicey. Despite likely "assurances" that U.S. citizens will be allowed to leave peacefully, I have little doubt that terrorist "gunners" would like nothing better than taking potshots at departing Americans. If that happens--and more assuredly, it will--the U.S. should make one thing perfectly clear: if U.S. citizens or dependents are killed by hostile fire during the evacuation, Hizbollah and its patrons in Damascus will be held completely responsible.
To reinforce that point, it's time to forward deploy some B-52s from Barksdale and Minot to RAF Fairford. Nothing like a threatened carpet bombing of the Bekka Valley, south Beirut, or Bashir Assad's summer villa to get the bad guys's attention.