More than 2,400 Americans have contacted U.S. officials seeking government-chartered evacuation flights from Egypt as anti-government protests continue to roil the country, the State Department said Monday.
The department said more than 220 have already left on the special flights, including 50-100 who got on a military plane that was already in Egypt and had available seats. More flights are scheduled. The department said it expects to evacuate about 900 U.S. citizens from Egypt on Monday and another 1,000 on Tuesday.
Amid the chaos at the airport, the department warned those wishing to take the flights from Cairo to Cyprus, Greece or Turkey that they should prepare for lengthy waits at the airport and they should bring food, water and other necessities.
The department said the majority of U.S. citizens wanting to leave are in Cairo but that others are in the cities of Alexandria, Luxor and Aswan.
Assistant Secretary of State Janice Jacobs told reporters Sunday that she expects it will take several flights over the coming days to handle the number of Americans who want to leave Egypt, where rioters are threatening to overturn the ruling regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Jacobs acknowledged that Internet interruptions in Egypt are making it difficult for Americans there to get information about the evacuations. But she said they have been able to get information from people in the United States who do have access to State Department and embassy websites.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appealed for an orderly transition to lasting democracy in Egypt even as escalating violence threatened Mideast stability. She refused to speculate on Mubarak's future and his teetering government, but said U.S. officials "obviously want to see people who are truly committed to democracy, not to imposing any ideology on Egyptians."
She warned Sunday against a takeover resembling the one in Iran, with a "small group that doesn't represent the full diversity of Egyptian society" seizing control and imposing its ideological beliefs.
Though the U.S. military is closely watching developments, the Defense Department has not been asked to involve itself in the State Department's evacuation plan, Marine Col. Dave Lapan, a Defense Department spokesman, said Monday.
The Pentagon is taking stock of what ships, planes and other assets it has nearby that could be used if the State Department asks the military for help. The Navy, for example, has aircraft carriers in the Middle East region. The USS Enterprise is in the Mediterranean Sea after a port visit to Portugal and the USS Abraham Lincoln is in the Arabian Sea in support of the war in Afghanistan.
Involvement by the military could presumably change if the threat to Americans in Egypt were to become too great and if it becomes impossible for citizens to get out of the country commercially.
Jacobs said the U.S. will have enough flights to take out all American citizens and dependents who want to leave. And the U.S. may also send charter planes to other cities in Egypt, such as Luxor, if there are a number of Americans stranded there. She said Americans with tickets on commercial airlines should first contact those carriers about getting out.
According to the State Department there are about 52,000 Americans registered with the embassy in Cairo. Officials noted, however, that many people don't register -- or deregister when they leave -- and some Americans may not want to leave.