A. Principal Findings.
The USMNF/MAU Headquarters compound primarily occupied three buildings, in the administrative area of the Beirut International Airport (BIA). BIA is an active international airport which serviced an average of some 35 flights and 2,400 passengers a day during the two-week period preceding the bombing of the BLT Headquarters building. Approximately 1,000 civilians are employed at BIA, and ground traffic to and from the area is estimated at about 3,00 vehicles daily.
Figure 5-1 depicts the major features referred to hereafter. The MAU Headquarters was located in the former Airport Fire Fighting School facilities at Beirut International Airport. The structure is a two-story building with floors, ceiling, and walls constructed of reinforced concrete. The first (ground) floor consists of six vehicle bays accessed by metal doors, several offices and a utility room.
The second floor, accessed by a circular staircase, consists of administrative offices. Exposed openings had been reinforced with protective sandbag walls. The roof, accessed by an exterior ladder, was used as an antenna farm. The MAU Service Support Group (MSSG) Headquarters was located immediately across the road to the northwest of the MAU Headquarters building. The structure is a single story, reinforced concrete and steel building which was reinforced at exposed openings by protective sandbag walls.
The Battalion Landing Team (BLT) Headquarters was located in a four-story building southwest of the MAU Headquarters.. (The Building is described in detail in the following section).
Buildings utilized by Lebanese Civil Aviation Authorities in the immediate vicinity of the USMNF facilities included the Civil Aviation School directly west
Interviews with personnel of the LAF liaison element and with LAF soldiers who manned checkpoint "Cocodee" on the morning of 23 October 1983 confirm the restricted access to BIA. Vehicles already in the BIA administrative area by 2100, however, were not required to depart. in fact, because of the extensive repair and construction activity at BIA, many vehicles, including large trucks similar to the vehicle utilized in the bombing, routinely remained in the area overnight.
II. BLT HEADQUARTERS BUILDING
A. Principal Findings.
The BLT Headquarters was located in a bombed-out, fire-damaged, four story building located north of the BIA terminal building and just south of the building utilized as the 24th MAU Headquarters (See Figure 5-2). The building was constructed of steel and reinforced concrete. At one time large plate glass windows encompassed the second, third and fourth stories. All of the windows on the upper three floors had been replaced with an assortment of plywood, sand bag cloth, screen, and plastic sheeting. The ground floor was an open area which has been enclosed with substantial sand bagging and barbed wire. At the center of the building was an open courtyard extending to the road with a ventilated covering to ward off rain while providing for cooling and illumination of the building's interior. There were two inoperable elevator shafts which had been fire damaged. Access to upper stories was gained via two concrete stairwells located on the east and west ends of the courtyard.
The building originally housed the headquarters of the Government of Lebanon's Aviation Administration Bureau. It had been successively occupied by the PLO, the Syrians, and finally by the Israelis, the latter using it as a field hospital during their 1982 invasion. The first U.S. Marine Corps unit ashore in September 1982 occupied the building as the command post for a Battalion Landing Team (BLT).
Initially, security for the force was not the paramount consideration of the USMNF. The Marines, for the most part, were welcomed, particularly so in clearing up mines and unexploded ordnance left behind as a result of the PLO/Israeli conflict. Tactical security was established appropriate to mission tasking and the perceived threat. Subsequently as military involvement between warring Lebanese confessional groups worsened, LAF training was halted, mobile patrols were reduced and security enhancements were instituted as follows:
Security provisions from 29 September 1982 to 22 October 1983 were such that, despite occasional light to heavy hostile artillery, rocket and sniper fire, Marine casualties
Starting on 29 May, BLT 1/8 (24th MAU) relived BLT 2/6 (22d MAU) in place at the BIA. During this relief period from 26 May to 30 May, Commanding Officer, BLT 1/8, and the Commanding Officer, BLT 2/6, conferred extensively on the situations at BIA, at the U.S. and British Embassies, and at the Lebanese Scientific and Technical University.
The changeover of the two BLTs at the airport was normal. The infantry companies occupied previously prepared defensive positions on the airport perimeter and the U.S. Embassy responsibility; "B" Company assumed the eastern and northern airport perimeter and check points 76 and 11; and "C" Company located at the Lebanese Scientific and Technical University and check points 35 and 69. The Weapons Company was put into a supporting role; its 81mm mortar platoon occupied a position on the eastern perimeter, slightly west of check point 11. Subsequently, the companies were rotated, and on 23 October 1983, BLT 1/8 was positions as shown on Figure 5-3.
Upon assuming BIA defensive positions, BLT 1/8 continued the security enhancement work of BLT 2/6. Sandbags were filled and emplaced within all positions. It is estimated that from 29 May to 23 October 1983, some 500,000 sandbags were filled and emplaced in addition to 10,000 feet of concertina wire, and 1,000 engineer stakes. This equates to approximately 20 tons of materials.
On 30 May 1983, BLT 1/8 (24th MAU) occupied the building. The 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment formed the nucleus of BLT 1/8. The battalion consisted of three infantry companies, a weapons company, and a headquarters and service company. BLT 1/8 had a strength of approximately 1250 personnel. This figure remained relatively constant. On any given day from 30 May 1983 until 23 October, BLT 1/8 consisted of approximately 59 Marine officers, 1143 enlisted Marines, 3 Navy officers, 52 Navy enlisted, 3 Army officers and 28 Army enlisted.
The BLT Headquarters building was occupied from the outset for a variety of reasons. The steel and reinforced concrete construction of the BLT Headquarters building was viewed as providing ideal protection from a variety of weapons. The building also afforded several military advantages that could be gained nowhere else within the BLT's assigned area of responsibility. First, it provided an ideal location to effectively support a BLT on a day-to-day basis. Logistic support was centrally located, thus enabling water, rations and ammunition to be easily allocated from a single, central point to the rifle companies and attached units. The Battalion Aid Station could be safeguarded in a clean, habitable location that could be quickly and easily re. Motor transport assets could be parked and maintained in a common motor pool area. A reaction force could be mustered in a protected area and held in readiness for emergencies. The building also provided a safe and convenient location to brief the large numbers of U.S. Congressmen, Administration officials, and flag and general officers who visited Beirut from September 1982 to October 1983. In sum, the building was an ideal location for the command post of a battalion actively engaged in fulfilling a peace-keeping and presence mission.
Second, the building was an excellent observation post. From its rooftop, a full 360 degree field of vision was available. From this elevated position, forward air controllers, naval gunfire spotters and artillery forward observers could see into the critical Shuf Mountain area. Also from this position, observers could see and assist USMNF units in their positions at the Lebanese Science and Technical University. Further, this observation position facilitated control of helicopter landing zones that were
Third, the building provided an excellent platform upon which communications antennae could be mounted. In that the supporting ships were initially as far as 3,000 to 6,000 yards off shore, antenna height was a major factor in maintaining reliable communications with the supporting elements of the 6th Fleet. Reliable communication with the ships of CTF 60 and CTF 61 was critical to the defense and safety of not only the USMNF, but to the U.S. Embassy, the U.S. Ambassador's residence, the Duraffourd building, and our allies in the MNF as well. Reliable communications meant that naval gunfire missions could be directed at hostile artillery and rocket positions in the Shuf Mountains when they fired into the airport. Line-of-sight communications are also essential in calling for and adjusting air strikes. moreover, such communications were key to the rapid evacuation o casualties via helicopter to secure medical facilities offshore.
In summary, the Commission believes that a variety of valid political and military considerations supported the selection of this building to house the BLT Headquarters. The fact that no casualties were sustained in that building until 23 October 1983, attested to its capability to provide protection against the incoming fire received by the BLT Headquarters, while simultaneously providing the best available facility to allow the USMNF to conduct its mission.
III. BLT HEADQUARTERS ORGANIZATION, OPERATION AND SECURITY
A. Principal Findings.
The basement of the building consisted of two larger rooms connected by an east-west passageway (See Figure 5-4). The west room was basically a storage area for foodstuffs for the field mess to include produce, dry storage, canned goods, paper materials, and dairy products. The east room was divided between a troop recreation area and the battalion aid station. An access tunnel into this room was securely blocked and guarded 24 hours a day (See Figure 5-5). In the recreation area were picnic chairs and tables, pool and ping-pong tables, video games, and a television set with a video cassette recorder for movies. Beer, soda and snacks were stored and sold in this area. In the aid station, the battalion's medical equipment was arranged to handle normal sick call, emergencies, and, if required, casualty triage. All battalion medical records were stored in this area.
The ground floor lobby (See Figure 5-6) was kept clear for security reasons. Should the building be penetrated, fire could be directed from the upper stories down into an open area. The filed mess was located beneath the extreme western side of the building overhang, behind a sandbag and screen wall which completely enclosed the area. Seating capacity for the mess was approximately 150 personnel. Adjacent to the mess, and within the building proper, were the armory and S-4 (logistics) storage areas. A small number of anti-tank missiles prepositioned here for use in building defense and on foot and patrols. A definitive listing of ordnance involved cannot be complied until the final results of the FBI's forensic investigation are made available. From available information, however, it appears that the only other ordnance in the building was the basic load of ammunition carried by individual Marines.
The TOW (anti-tank missile) section was billeted behind a sandbag wall beneath the overhang on the extreme eastern side. Adjacent to the TOW section, and within the building, was the Lebanese vendor's shop. The vendor sold soda, candy, souvenirs, and health and comfort items. He often slept in his shop's storage area and is believed to have been killed in the explosion on 23 October. Adjacent to the vendor's area was another storage room used for beer and
In the northeast corner of the lobby was a weight lifting machine; in the southeast corner was a storage area for portable food (pre-packaged) containers. In the southwest corner were battalion storage and work areas partitioned off by stacked supply boxes. The S-4 (logistics) working area was located in the northwest corner. The Sergeant of the Guard's post was located in a small structure beneath the overhang at the main entrance on the south side of the building.
The first floor housed the key personnel of the battalion's command structure (See Figure 5-7). In the western-most offices were the Battalion Commander, the Intelligence Officer, the Operations Officer, and the Sergeant Major. Adjacent to their offices was the Combat Operations Center from where the battalion's day-to-day functions were controlled and coordinated. The eastern section of the first floor housed the battalion's administrative offices, classified material storage, and postal services. in the southern connecting hallway were the guards' quarters.. There were small rooms in the northern hallway where company grade officers and staff NCO's lived and worked.
The second floor (See Figure 5-8) was more open than the first floor. The battalion's communications platoon worked and resided in the west section which contained their maintenance, battery, and wire shops. The east section housed the engineers and their portable equipment storage area. The north hallway housed the reconnaissance platoon and the south hallway housed that portion of the weapons company which had not been attached to the outlying rifle companies or deployed to general support positions (81mm mortar platoon).
The third floor (See Figure 5-9) was the most open and least populated of the three floors. The west section contained a small chapel, and a recreation area and movie room for staff NCO's and officers. The west section also housed the cooks and messmen. The east section contained a small library and the chaplain's office. The battalion medical officer and senior enlisted members of the medical platoon also resided in this area. medical supplies were stored there, and sick call had been held in the southeast corner room until early August. Both the north and the south hallways housed a variety of key personnel who manned roof top positions. They included teams of artillery forward observers, naval gunfire spotters, forward air
On the roof (See Figure 5-10) were several sandbagged observation positions used by the various team members. Also on the roof were over a dozen communications antennae, including those on HF, VHF, and UHF frequencies.
Two enlisted Marines from the Forward Air Control (FAC) team were asleep on the roof on the morning of the explosion and escaped unharmed. They testified that the IOS was manned 24 hours a day, every day. These team members manned the position on the extreme eastern end of the roof in order to observe their area of primary interest: the Shuf Mountains. it should be emphasized that these teams were not responsible for security in the immediate vicinity of the building proper; that was the responsibility of the Security Guard Force.
The interior of the building was utilized in a manner that facilitated command, control, coordination and communication both within the battalion and to senior, subordinate and supporting units. Effective use was made of the rooftop by key supporting arms team members. The total number of personnel billeted and working in and around the building averaged approximately 350 out of an average BLT strength of 1250. Since the BLT Headquarters building contained the only field mess in the 24th MAU, the number of personnel in and around the building during meal hours may have exceeded 400.
Notwithstanding the utility derived from the use of the building in question, and acknowledging the fact that the building did provide protection to personnel from incoming fire, the BLT Commander failed to observe the basic security precaution of dispersion. The practice of dispersion is fundamental and well understood by the military at every echelon. It basically is the spreading or separating of troops, material activities, or establishments to reduce their vulnerability to enemy action. The BLT Commander did not follow this accepted practice and permitted the concentration of approximately one-fourth of his command in a relatively confined location thereby presenting a lucrative target to hostile elements. The MAU Commander condoned this decision.
IV. SECURITY GUARD ORGANIZATION AND EXECUTION.
A. Principal Findings.
The BLT Commander was responsible for the security of the MAU/BLT compound and the BLT Headquarters. The Officer of the Day (OOD) was appointed on a 24-hour rotational basis to represent the BLT Commander in his absence. The BLT Commander designated the H&S Company Commander as the permanent Guard Officer. A non-commissioned officer was designated as the permanent Commander of the Guard an directly responsible to the Guard Officer for the instruction, discipline and performance of the guard. The Sergeant of the Guard (SOC) was directly accountable for the instruction, discipline and performance of the guard force during his twenty-four hour tour of duty. The three Corporals of the Guard (COG) rotated on four-hour shifts as the direct supervisor of the guard reliefs. These posts were manned by sentries organized into three reliefs, each of which stood four-hour rotational shifts. Like the COG, the sentries were appointed for two-week tours. The MAU/BLT compound security chain of command is illustrated in the following diagram:
H&S Company Commander
Commander of the Guard
Sergeant of the Guard
Corporal of the Guard (3)
Sentries of the Guard (3 Reliefs)
Battalion Landing Team Order 1601.8, dated 15 July 1983, was the basis for the security guard at the 24 MAU/BLT compound (Annex F). This order provide coordinated structure of the various MAU/BLT elements within the compound to establish security. Instructions common to all posts were covered in the basic order. Special orders were
Permanently designed posts on the MAU/BLT compound are indicated on the diagram at Figure 5-11. Specific actions for each post were determined by the designated alert status and the guard order. There were four alert conditions, with Alert Condition I being the highest state of alert. The appropriate level of alert was determined in the Combat Operations Center (COC).
In practice, modifications were made to the guard order. For instance, only sentries at Posts 1, 2, and 3 kept magazines in their weapons at all times. post 4, 5, 6, and 6 were manned with one sentry during daylight hours. Post 8 was not manned at the time of the attack. The BLT Order specified that such modifications would be noted in the Guard Logbook, which is presumed to have been destroyed in the explosion. The security posture on 23 October 1983 at the MAU/BLT compound, as described in testimony by surviving witnesses, was not in compliance with published directives for Alert Conditions II or III.
Marines assigned to the BLT guard wore the utility uniform with helmet, flak jacket, belt suspenders, M16 rifle, flashlight and a cartridge belt containing two filed canteens, first aid kit, two magazine pouches with six magazines and a total of 120 rounds. The SOG was armed with a .45 caliber pistol. All personnel carried an ROE card in their flak jacket. During hours of darkness, night vision goggles were issued. There were not anti-tank weapons on any post. Anti-tank missile launchers (TOW) were, however, positioned on the roof.
Every Marine interviewed expressed concern over the restrictions against inserting magazines in weapons while on interior posts during Alert Condition II, III, and IV. The most outspoken were the sentries on posts 6 and 7 where the penetration of the compound occurred on 23 October 1983. The MAU Commander explained that he made a conscious decision not to permit insertion of magazines in weapons in interior posts to preclude accidental discharge and possible injury to innocent civilians. This is indicative of the emphasis on prevention of harm to civilians, notwithstanding some degradation of security. The threat to the MAU/BLT compound was perceived to be direct and indirect fire, ground attack by personnel, stationary vehicular bombs and hand grenade/RPG attack. In accordance with existing ROE (White Card), instructions pertaining to moving vehicles involved search and access procedures at gates. hostile penetration of the perimeter by cars or trucks was not addressed in these instructions provided by the BLT guards.
The testimony of the Marines who stood post at the MAU/BLT compound was consistently in agreement concerning the activities of the guard force. Guard duty appears to have been professionally performed. All sentries interviewed were knowledgeable of the unique requirements of the various posts where they had performed duty.
Whether full compliance with the actions prescribed for Alert Condition II would have prevented, in full or in part, the tragic results of the 23 October 1983 attack cannot be determined, but the possibility cannot be dismissed. (See also PART SIX of this report.)
V. COMMAND RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE SECURITY OF THE 24th MAU AND BLT 1/8 PRIOR TO 23 OCTOBER 19983
A. Principal Findings.
The Commanders of the 24th MAU and BLT 1/8 took a number of actions to enhance the security of their forces while performing the assigned USMNF mission. The 24th MAU Commander was aware of the deteriorating on in the late summer and early fall of 1983 which resulted in a wide spectrum of threats to his command, ranging from conventional military threats to the use of terrorist tactics. Although deluged with daily threat information, the MAU Commander received no specific warning of the time, place or technique of the 23 October 1983 attack. Moreover, he was not briefed on the 18 April 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in specific terms until after the BLT Headquarters bombing. He was not apprised of the detailed information derived by the analysis of the Embassy bombing as to the destructive potential of gas-enhanced explosive devices.
Competing with the MAU Commander's reaction to the growing threat to his force was his dedication to the USMNF mission assigned to his command and his appreciation of the significance of peace-keeping and presence in achieving U.S. policy objectives in Lebanon. He perceived his mission to be more diplomatic than military, providing presence and visibility, along with the other MNF partners, to help the Government of Lebanon achieve stability. He was a key player on the U.S. Country Team and worked closely with the U.S. Chief of Mission, the President's Special Envoy the Middle East and the Military Advisor to the Presidential Envoy. Through these close associations with that leadership and his reading of the reporting sent back to Washington by the Country Team, the MAU Commander was constantly being reinforced in his appreciation of the importance of the assigned mission.
Given his understanding of the mission, coupled with the perception that the greatest real threat to the MAU and to the BLT Headquarters personnel was from conventional small arms, mortar, rocket, and artillery fire, the BLT Commander enacted security procedures concurred in by the MAU Commander which resulted in billeting approximately 350
The combination of a large volume of specific threat warnings that never materialized, and perceived and real pressure to accomplish a unique and difficult mission contributed significantly to the decisions of the MAU and BLT Commanders regarding the security of their force. Nevertheless, the Commission concludes that the security measures in effect in the MAU compound were neither commensurate with the increasing level of threat confronting the USMNF nor sufficient to preclude catastrophic losses such as those that were suffered on the morning of 23 October 1983. The Commission further concludes that while it may have appeared to be an appropriate response to the indirect fire being received, the decision to billet approximately one-quarter of the BLT in a single structure contributed to the catastrophic loss of life.
The Commission concludes that the Battalion landing Team Commander must take responsibility for the concentration of approximately 350 members of his command in the Battalion Headquarters building thereby providing a lucrative target for attack. Further, the BLT Commander modified prescribed alert procedures, degrading security of the compound.
The Commission also concludes that the MAU Commander shares the responsibility for the catastrophic losses in that he condoned the concentration of personnel in the BLT Headquarters building, concurred in modification of prescribed alert procedures, and emphasized safety over security in directing that sentries on Posts 4, 5, 6, and 7 would not load their weapons.
The Commission further concludes that although it finds the BLT and MAU Commanders to be at fault, it also finds that there was a series of circumstances beyond their control that influenced their judgement and their actions relating to the security of the USMNF.
The Commission recommends that the Secretary of Defense take whatever administrative or disciplinary action he deems appropriate, citing the failure of the BLT and MAU Commanders to take the security measures necessary to preclude the catastrophic loss of life in the attack on 23 October 1983.