U.S. European Command begins Joint Task Force-Lebanon responsibilities
LEBANON — U.S. European Command, on Aug. 23, 2006, directed Joint Task Force-Lebanon to assume responsibility for military support to American Embassy Beirut and to help Department of State led humanitarian assistance efforts that are providing aid and strengthening hope to the people of Lebanon.
Led by Navy Vice Adm. J. "Boomer" Stufflebeem, Commander, U.S. Sixth Fleet , JTF-Lebanon officially accepted the mission from Commander, Combined Task Force-59 (CTF-59), which had been operating in the region since mid-July 2006 shortly after hostilities began between Israel and Hezbollah terrorists based in Lebanon. CTF-59, which included the USS IWO JIMA expeditionary strike group, helped nearly 15,000 American citizens safely depart from Lebanon during the crisis.
After more than two weeks of planning, Stufflebeem said JTF-Lebanon was ready to assume responsibility during this critical time of need. "Our mission is to support the American embassy here and the Department of State," Stufflebeem explained. "Whatever it is they need done, we'll execute."
The transfer of authority to JTF-Lebanon allows U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) personnel and resources to return to their area of responsibility and proceed with their previously scheduled duties.
JTF-Lebanon includes ships and air assets, and more than 2,400 Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy active and reserve personnel from throughout EUCOM. Most command element personnel are aboard the Italy-based flagship USS Mount Whitney (LCC/JCC 20), which has been underway in the Eastern Mediterranean since last week.
As part of the final process to seamlessly transfer authority of the joint operating area, Stufflebeem flew via a Mount Whitney helicopter to Cyprus on Aug. 20, 2006, to meet with Marine Brig. Gen. Carl Jensen, the CTF-59 Commander. "On July 16 - our first full day here - we were only able to move 21 American citizens out of Beirut by helicopter," said Jensen from his base of operations in Cyprus. "Just a few days later on July 21, we moved more than 3,000. We received a lot of help not only CENTCOM assets, but also from a lot of talented people at EUCOM, Transportation Command and the Department of State to include the embassies in Lebanon and Cyprus. If ever there was a joint interagency effort of high magnitude, this is it."
Stufflebeem continued the joint interagency theme by visiting U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman Aug. 21, 2006, at the American Embassy in Beirut. "We are very pleased to see Vice Adm. Stufflebeem here today, to talk to us about the seamless transition between JTF-Lebanon and CTF-59," Feltman said. "CENTCOM has done a fantastic job helping to keep this embassy open by providing the security force and air support we needed to keep the operation going. We have no doubt that the support we receive from EUCOM will be just as strong."
"I am particularly proud of the partnerships between the Department of State and the Department of Defense that have come out because of this crisis," the ambassador added. The shift in responsibility to JTF-Lebanon is a continuation of the Defense Department mission to assist the larger multinational effort and the U.S. government long-term commitment to assist the people of Lebanon and provide lasting regional stability.
"The level of support and the level of mission contribution won't change with the shift in responsibility," said Navy Capt. Christopher Noble, deputy commander of CTF-59. "The change won't be noticeable, except that EUCOM is more familiar with the specifics of this area, and I think they will really fine-tune the big picture."
Noble said he was thrilled to have been a part of this operation, and counts it as a highlight of a military career that has spanned almost 30 years. "We hadn't experienced something like this before on this scale, we just didn't know if it was going to work," he recalled. "We rehearsed it from the textbook many times, but when we had to do it, we did really well. Vice Adm. Stufflebeem and the JTF-Lebanon team still have a lot of work ahead of them, but in the end, I think everyone involved with these operations are going to be very proud of the way the U.S. joint team performed."