Getting Americans Out of Lebanon, Again

NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr says that the evacuation of Americans from Lebanon has happened twice before: in 1958, and in 1983.

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A small contingent of U.S. marines landed near Beirut today to help with the evacuation of American civilians from Lebanon. About 40 marines helped shuttle people to a waiting navy ship off shore.

This is the first time U.S. marines have been in Lebanon in more than 20 years, which gives NPR senior new analyst Daniel Schorr reason to think back.

DANIEL SCHORR reporting:

To the shores of Lebanon. The United States Marines have been there before, once in 1958 sent by President Eisenhower to help fend off a threatened Syrian invasion. Once more in 1976 to protect Americans and to help in evacuating some, and in 1982 when the Marines' mission was to keep the peace after the massacres of Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila. That ended tragically when the Marine barracks in Beirut was blown up with a loss of 241 lives.

This time the Marines' mission is peaceful, or so it is hoped. Assisting in the evacuation of some of the estimated 25,000 Americans in Lebanon. The American government was slower than some others in starting evacuation of its citizens. There have been accounts of tearful people lined up at the American embassy pleading for help.

In a letter to Congressional leaders, President Bush said there is no evidence that Americans in Lebanon are being directly targeted, but that the security situation has deteriorated and now presents a potential threat to Americans. To many of those clambering to board helicopters on the embassy helipad or hastily chartered cruise ships, the threat seems more than potential.

Slow to start, the evacuation program is now picking up speed as Navy ships arrive to join in the rescue. Authorities now estimate that evacuations, which have been running at about 1,000 a day, will reach 6,000 by the end of the week.

What the American government lacked, you might say, was an exit strategy.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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