On 23 October 1983, two suicidal drivers, representing interests which are totally hostile to the United States of America and the Republic of France, conducted unprecedented and massive terrorist attacks--not against American Marines, sailors, and soldiers and French airborne troops--but against the free world.
Remarks by the Commandant of the Marine Corps
Senate Armed Services Committee, 31 October 1983
While all Americans and Frenchmen are feeling the strong emotions resulting from this act, and while I am deeply saddened by the reason for my presence before this Committee, I am relieved and heartened to know that today we start the process I have sworn to defend for all my adult life. For the past week we have been groping at straws--asking ourselves the agonizing questions as to how this could happen. For all of us, it has been a week full of haunting speculation.
Today, we start the process which was envisioned by our founding fathers--today we start an orderly due process designed to provide the citizens of this great land with accountability.
To insure that this process remains fully intact, upon my return from Beirut I urgently requested that the Secretary of Defense conduct an inquiry into events leading up to the terrorist act which took the precious lives of young Americans at 0622 on 23 October. We owe this to the loved one of those who have been killed, to the American people, to the Congress of the United States--and, of tremendous importance to me--to our Marines--past, present and future.
With that said--first, Mr. Chairman, let me set the scene.
Our Marines are situated in the middle of Beirut International Airport--this is a highly active commercial airport--the international terminal for a country of over three million people. We are there as guests, not invaders, so our facilities are provided in coordination with the Lebanese government.
Picture, if you will, the commercial activity at this airport--people, cars, trucks, major ne construction, repair, new drainage systems under construction. This is a civilian environment, a hub-bug of activity by civilians, not military.
It is not a tactical strong point as some may envision.
Our mission is not, in a direct sense, the physical security of the airport--that specific mission is assigned to the Lebanese Armed Forces. Our basic mission is presence, and the logical question is--how do you define presence. Well, first let me tell you that presence as a mission is not in any military dictionary. It is not a classic military mission.
But the chain of command at the time correctly took presence to mean--be visible--provide a backdrop of U.S. presence which would be conducive to the stability of Lebanon--a sovereign Nation with a duly constituted government. I guess the best description is that we are a visible manifestation of U.S. strength and resolve to Lebanon and to the free world.
Besides, given the area we occupied--the threat as described by all available intelligence sources--a highly active commercial environment which was literally crawling with civilians--it would have been impossible for the Commander to establish a hard point defense in a classic tactical sense.
Again, please remember--we were guests of a friendly Nation--not on occupation duty!
My remarks today will take in to account my trip to Beirut immediately after the terrorist attack. They include background information on the mission of the Marines since their second entry into Beirut on 29 September 1982. This background is essential to a complete understanding of what happened and how it could have happened.
These remarks will avoid discussion of the political or diplomatic considerations of our presence in Lebanon. It is not the place of a Marine to discuss those imperatives for military employment.*
My remarks are based upon historical facts as I know them at this time.
The facts clearly show that our presence in Lebanon has gone through phases, each different, but clearly identifiable in the kaleidoscope of events over the past year. Each phase saw the threat to the security of the Marines ebb and flow in form and scope. Because of ever-changing circumstances and events, our forces banked heavily on the information, and warnings of danger, from the intelligence community--national and multinational. On the basis of this information, the Marines sought to anticipate events and take protective measures rather than just react after an event.
Subsequent to the successful evacuation of the PLO from Beirut, from 25 August to 9 September, the Marines withdrew from Lebanon on 10 September 1982, and resumed their normal duties as part of the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean.
The Marines (as part of the MNF) returned to Lebanon on 29 September 1982. The government of Lebanon requested the MNF to restore order after the assassination of their President, Bashir Gemayal, and the tragic massacre of Palestinian refugees at the Sabra and Shatila camps. The Lebanese Armed Forces alone were clearly unable to exercise control in Beirut and the surrounding countryside.
As I mentioned previously, the assigned mission of the MNF, simply stated, was "presence."
It should be clearly understood that this was basically a diplomatic/political mission, not a military one in the classic sense, and the positioning of Marine forces at Beirut International Airport was not driven by tactical considerations. Moreover, the threats at the time, as reported by the Marines by the intelligence available did not require tactical deployment. Indeed, the mission of "presence" mitigated against such measures. Put another way, the Marines had to be seen by the Lebanese people.
The major threat when Marines returned to Beirut was from the accidental detonation of over 100,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance. This ordnance lay strewn and buried in and around the airfield, which was the "no-man's-land" during the battle of Beirut.
The rules of engagement under which the Marines were to operate were carefully constructed and promulgated by the Operational Commander. These were normal peacetime rules of engagement. They were restrictive in nature, but provided the right of self-protection and self-defense. The mission and rules of engagement were considered appropriate and adequate for the environment and threat.
During this phase the Marines were warmly greeted by the Lebanese people. Ordnance clearing operations and civic action projects undertaken by the Marines were appreciated by the populace. The overall security of BIA was, however, and still is, the responsibility of the LAF. In compliance with the mission, Marine dispositions were made at the airport to accommodate
the LAF and to facilitate construction projects which would return the airport to normal use. Until November all went well.
By the beginning of November we entered a new and more ominous phase. The Marines had received intelligence reports that the passive threat environment of the previous month had changed. The intelligence community reported the problems from dissidents had become not just a possibility, but a probability. Armed with this intelligence, the Commander on the scene prudently initiated a variety of defensive measures.
The combination of warning and preparation paid off on 1 November 1982, when a 300-pound car-bomb was exploded on the main thoroughfare near the beach area, over which Marines received supplies from the ships offshore. A review of the measures previously taken to safeguard the beach area reveals that the Command had:
- Hardened beach positions.
- Dispersed the beach support facilities.
- Limited access to the beach.
- Segregated all Marines from civilians (vendors, autos, etc.).
- Increased alert.
- Provided mobility at each checkpoint.
The terrorist effort was clumsy, amateurish and a failure. With the failure of the car-bomb, no further incidents occurred against the Marines during this period.
It was also during this phase that the Marines were authorized to begin an informal program to assist in training the LAF. This help was part of an overall effort to create a viable military entity which could eventually assume the security responsibilities for Beirut and later expand to greater Lebanon. While in itself this training effort may not be germane to the October bombing incident, it may be relative to the local perception of the role of the Marines in Beirut. Some may have perceived that Americans were no longer exclusively in a "presence" role; that we were in an assistance role. Motorized patrols were also initiated during this phase, and were conducted in east Beirut to provide clear visibility of the American presence.
In the latter part of December 1982, Marines were ordered not to patrol the Old Sidon road southwest of the airport. The rationale for this restriction is not immediately relative to the issue at hand, but it should be remembered that by the first of the year, for all practical purposes, the Marine perimeter was limited to the commercial complex and runways of BIA.
In February 1983, the low-threat environment continued. The Marines participated in a major rescue operation during a severe blizzard in the mountains east of Beirut. As part of the MNF, they operated beyond Syrian lines, rescuing Christians and Moslems. These operations helped sustain the principle of evenhandedness and confessional neutrality. It also had a major impact on the credibility of our "presence."
A new phase of the Beirut story began in March of this year. The situation began to deteriorate somewhat at the time. Although there was no intelligence of an increased threat, a 12-man Marine presence patrol in a community north of the airfield was attacked by a grenade thrown from a building. It resulted in five Marines receiving minor wounds. It was not predicted and was the first such incident against the Marines in four-
and-a-half months. Commanders immediately increased passive defense measures such as varying patrol routes, times, and size of patrols. in the opinion of some, about this time several Lebanese factions may have perceived a subtle shift of the USMNF from being pro-Lebanese to pro-Christian.
In April, the tragic car-bombing of the U.S. Embassy took place. Clearly, the United States was emerging as a prime target for those who either opposed or misinterpreted the role of the MNF in Lebanon. The former reason is more likely, in that the Italians and the French were also victims of terrorist harassment, even though they were not significantly involved in the reconstitution of the LAF.
Although I know of no intelligence warning which indicated that the spectacular car-bombing of the Embassy was in the offing, there were renewed warnings that terrorist attacks were likely to continue. Car-bombs were viewed as a likely form of attack. The Embassy bombing prompted several decisive steps to counter the threat. The Marines provided a special protective detail for the temporary U.S. Embassy and initiated a significant number of increased security measures.
- A Marine unit provided security and constructed defensive obstacles at the Ambassador's residence.
- Intensive efforts were made to increase intelligence sources in the immediate area of the Marine positions.
As pertains to the headquarters area:
- Civilian traffic was prohibited from the headquarters area.
- All civilian and military vehicles were searched in the proximity of the headquarters complex.
- Headquarters building and facilities were sandbagged. Over a quarter million sandbags were emplaced.
- Barbed wire entanglements were emplaced throughout. Concertina wire was strung in the civilian parking lot in front of headquarters. While the civilian parking lot adjacent to the BLT Headquarters lot was ideally suited for a mine field in a tactical sense, mines were not emplaced as the lot served the commercial airport and was actively used by civilians.
- Additional Marines were posted in each guard post during high-threat periods.
- Roof-top surveillance was increased.
- Foot patrols were increased within the headquarters area.
- A metal sewer pipe barrier was placed in front of the BLT headquarters building.
- Tunnels beneath the headquarters complex were sealed.
- The use of night observation devices was increased.
- Magazines were inserted in weapons at appropriate posts. (This in addition to previous orders which directed Marines on the perimeter and on patrol to stand duty with loaded weapons.)
- Tank ditches were contemplated, but considered unnecessary and impractical in view of the threat existing at the time and the commercial nature of the airport.
Throughout May, Marines operated in a high-threat environment and continued to actively patrol, train the LAF, and improve security. During June, there was a noticeable deterioration in relations with some factions
of the local population. This was exacerbated by the reinfiltration of PLO elements into neighborhoods surrounding the airport. Among other indications, verbal harassment was directed against Marine patrols. The first rocket and mortar attacks against the LAF in the BIA complex occurred. Spillover of stray rounds came into the Marine positions. The Marines fully recognized the increased threat posed by this firing, and continued to harden positions by emplacing sandbags and digging-in deeper. Marine and LAF patrols were also integrated. Intelligence now indicated that rockets and mortars were to continue to be a primary concern to the safety of the troops.
During August, the periodic rocket attacks did increase against LAF targets, with a continued spillover into Marine positions. It was decided at this time to move the remainder of the BLT support personnel, and reaction platoon (approximately 150 men), into the BLT headquarters building to afford maximum protection against small arms, mortar, rocket and artillery fires.
It should be pointed out that that the building was chosen because during the earlier fighting for Beirut it endured furious Israeli artillery barrages without being destroyed. An earth tremor in June also failed to cause any structural damage. It should be also noted that in a 13-month period, no Marine billeted in the building was killed or injured dut to incoming artillery, mortar, rockets or small arms.
In late August, armed conflict between the LAF and AMAL militia in West Beirut began in earnest. On 4 September the Israeli Defense Forces withdrew to the Awwali River, bringing active fighting and factional conflict to the Alayh and Chouf regions above Beirut. Sustained hostile fire, some directed primarily at our Marines, impacted at the airport with increasing frequency. The shooting in and around Beirut wsa at ammunition levels rivaling major battles of World War II--over a million artillery rounds. Our Marines took appropriate measures to harden their positions, increase their alert status, and to move all support personnel in the terminal complex into reinforced buildings for protection against this intense shelling. The shelling was sufficient to halt all operations at the airport. When fired upon, the USMNF fired at specific targets with appropriate counterbattery fire.
Our naval gunfire support for the LAF was a major influence on the subsequent ceasefire, but unfortunately some could conclude that it may have increased the Moslem perception that our Marines were pro-Christian and no longer neutral. ["Perception"??? What is so damned difficult about a simple acknowledgment that we were actively engaged in combat operations on behalf of one belligerent party to an ongoing civil war? A "neutral" party would have either refrained from any offensive actions, or bombarded the LAF along with the Druze and Amal militias. HyperWar] Be that as it may, I am in no position to judge. During this trying period of heavy fighting, the intelligence community continued to carry terrorist attacks as an active threat, but the threat was nonspecific and general, and overshadowed by the very specific and active reality of conventional military action.
The ceasefire on 23 September brought a fragile and uneasy peace to Beirut, but sniping at Marines became a daily occurrence. This brought us to a new phase. THe warnings of the terrorist threat resurfaced from the intelligence community. While terrorist bomb intelligence continued to be non-precise, the focus of attention appeared to be the threat of car bombs to convoys providing support to the US diplomatic community in Beirut. In some instances, the makes, colors, and license numbers were provided. Marines on security duty received this information. All U.S., French, British and LAF units were looking for suspicious automobiles--
particularly as they related to convoys. The threat became a reality on 19 October 1983, when a car bomb was detonated in an attempt to impede a Marine supply convoy enroute to the temporary Embassy about 12km from the headquarters. Alertness and protective measures already taken by the Marines minimized the results of this attack. Like the car bomb at the beach the previous November, the attack against the convoy can be judged a failure.
At the same time, it must also be remembered that the cease fire was beginning to break down. Artillery fire in the Chouf was intermittently resumed, as was the small arms fire against the Marines. The terrorist threat remained vague while the active threat from artillery and small arms was increasing.
What I have been attempting to paint for you is a picture of Beirut for the past year. It is only within the framework of that picture that you have any hope of understanding the tragic events of a week ago.
A world where violence and normalcy live side by side. Marines on a diplomatic mission--located in a busy airport complex whose traffic and congestion rival that of any city--a Marine unit whose well-being depends upon the intelligence furnished to protect itself. A Marine unit which for months has undergone the indignity of attack with discipline and forbearance. A force of men whose morale remains high in spite of all that has happened.
I would now like to describe what occurred on Sunday morning, October 23, and why we believe that only extraordinary security could have met that massive and unanticipated threat.
At daybreak, a five-ton capacity Mercedes truck (roughly the size of a large dump truck and a type commonly seen at the Beirut International Airport) entered a public parking lot adjacent to the four-story, steel-reinforced concrete and sandbagged building which housed the headquarters elements of BLT 1/8. After making a complete circle of the parking lot for acceleration, and while travelling at a high speed, this truck:
- crashed through the outer defense of a barbed wire emplacement,
- moved at high speed between two sandbagged sentry posts,
- passed through a gate in an iron fence--jumped over a sewer pipe which had been placed as an obstacle to impede the forward movement of vehicles,
- plowed through a sandbag barrier,
- hit with precision a four-foot wide passenger entry into the lobby where its cargo, estimated by the Defense Intelligence Agency to be 5,000 pounds of explosives, detonated.
The entire event, which can best be described as the delivery by a suicidal driver of a 5,000-pound truck-bomb at very high speed, took approximately six seconds from start to finish. Rough calculations indicate that it would require a massive concrete wall to stop a vehicle of this weight and travelling at this speed. It is of particular importance to note that the Commander's security was oriented toward the threat of the past several month, i.e., artillery, rockets, mortars, small arms and car bombs. in this context, his security efforts had been successful. Obviously, the Commander's security arrangements were inadequate to counter this form of "kamikaze" attack. But, we have yet to find any shred of intelligence which would have alerted a reasonable and prudent commander to this new and
unique threat. There was not even the indication of a capability to undertake such a monumental and precise action. General Tannous, the Commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, informed me that he cannot recall, in his vast experience, a terrorist attack of the type which hit the headquarters of BLT 1/8 on 23 October 1983. In his opinion, it represents a new and unique terrorist threat, one which could not have been reasonably anticipated by any Commander.
Almost simultaneously, a smaller vehicle approached an eight-story apartment building top the north of Beirut International Airport which housed the French contingent. Since this building is on a busy thoroughfare, there would be no reason to suspect its intention. As it approached the building, it accelerated, took a sharp right into the driveway, and forced entry into an underground garage--where it exploded. During a personal conversation, General Cann, the Commander f the French contingent of the MNF, informed me he had no intelligence which would have warned him of this threat, as did General Angioni, the Commander of the Italian contingent.
I believe it important to recognize that there is sufficient evidence to conclude that both incidents were not suicidal acts by some individual fanatic. They were instead, well planned and professionally executed acts of terrorism which appear designed to drive out U.S. presence from Lebanon.
To bring you up-to-date, it si my professional estimate that our Marines have been targeted for terrorism by highly professional non-Lebanese elements. In my view, these acts of violence will continue, and the perpetrators will carefully examine and analyze our vulnerabilities and make every effort to exploit them. In short, I firmly believe that highly sophisticated and well-traIned terrorists will target our Marines in the months to come. Therefore, I do not believe that we can ever create an effective passive capability which can counter all forms of terrorism in Lebanon or anywhere else.
With the foregoing said, I will now discuss initiatives which are underway or contemplated for increased security. The 24th MAU is in the process of decreasing vulnerability associated with large concentrations of Marines. Specifically:
- LAF APC's have been positioned at the BIA terminal and at the traffic circle in front of the airport.
- Vehicle access to command posts is now restricted to emergency and military vehicles.
- Civilian pedestrian access to the command post has been restricted to one location.
- MAU units have been placed in an indefinite "Condition I" (highest level) alert status.
- All entrances to the command posts have been blocked and reinforced.
- All rifle companies have reinforced the perimeter fence lines adjacent to their positions.
- An additional .50 caliber machine gun has been positioned to cover avenues of approach into the command post.
- Additional guard posts have been established throughout the MAU area, and an additional rifle company was sent from Camp Lejeune to provide security during the period of the recovery operations.
- Mobile reconnaissance patrols with anti-tank weapons have been established within the BIA perimeter.
- BLT 2/6 command element arrived at Beirut on 25 October to replace BLT 1/8 command elements.
- Definitive action is underway to strengthen the 24th MAU positions and to reduce vulnerability to terrorist attacks by isolating and barricading command and control and support areas.
In summary, I believe that:
- Our security measures were not adequate to stop a large, heavily laden truck, loaded with 5,000 pounds of high explosive, travelling at a high speed and driven by a suicide driver, which executed the attack in seconds from start to finish. This "flying truck bomb" was an unprecedented escalation in the previous terrorist threat, both in size of the weapon and method of delivery. I must continue to emphasize, however, that under our current disposition, restrictions, and mission, we will always have vulnerabilities, and that the other side will make every effort to exploit them.
That completes my statement. I would like to make two final comments:
I recognize that there remain many unanswered questions and a great deal of confusion surrounding this tragic event. For example, it is reported that the Commander, Colonel Geraghty, stated that he received a warning of the threat two days before the incident. The following message from him clarifies what he actually said, and I quote: "Sir, comment made to media was a general statement on car bomb warnings. At the weekly intelligence meeting between MNF Intel Officers and the Office of Beirut Security (Surete Generale), a listing of suspected car bombs, complete with car descriptions and license plate numbers is disseminated to the MNF by security officials. These car descriptions are copied and disseminated to our posts. Since our arrival, at least 100 potential car bombs have been identified to the MNF. After the attacked n our convoy on 19 October 1983, the car bomb threat was quite obviously real to the USMNF; however, specific information on how car bomb attacks were to be conducted (i.e., kamikaze) or a description of the large truck that conducted the attack on the BLT were never received by 24 MAU."
Another example is that I was reported to have stated last week that security was adequate. here let me set the scene and the context in which my remarks were made.
Five thousand pounds of high explosives destroyed a four-story steel reinforced concrete building. It was a heap of rubble. For over 50 hours, day and night, young Marines clawed at steel and concrete--more to save the injured who were trapped at the time than to recover the dead. The emotional scars were already deep--"Why me?" they asked. 'Why am I alive and my buddies are dead?"
Their Commandant was asked, "Was security adequate?" I replied yes--it was adequate to meet what any reasonable and prudent commander should have expected prior to dawn on Sunday, October 23, 1983. And, I want you to know in that atmosphere my remarks were directed to weary and frustrated Marines.
Let me phrase what I was saying in a different way:
If you were to ask me whether the security around the headquarters building was adequate to protect the occupants against a five-ton mercedes truck carrying 5,000 pounds of explosives at high speed--my answer would be NO!
And, if you would ask me whether the Commander should have known, given the explosion in the Embassy in April, my answer again would be NO! Both instances involved a terrorist bombing from a motor vehicle, but there the similarity ends. The delivery system was totally different as was every other aspect of the two incidents.
For these reasons, Mr. Chairman, I urgently requested the inquiry previously mentioned to determine the facts in an atmosphere that is conducive to such an inquiry. Knowing the Secretary of Defense as I do, and the respect I have for Admiral Long, there is no question in my mind that it will be a complete and thorough examination of this awful tragedy. I suggest we all await the board's findings.
I could not conclude my report to you with addressing the manner in which we reported our casualties. I know of your concern and share it. Our procedures have appeared to be excruciatingly slow. Please understand that in the impact of the destruction of the BLT Headquarters, and the tragic loss of life, our casualty reporting procedures for BLT 1/8 were destroyed. The requirements placed on the survivors to extricate and evacuate killed and wounded Marines as soon as possible, and the necessity to proceed slowly with regard to reporting for the sake of accurate identification and notification of the next of kin, were staggering. Due to the size of the task at hand and the painfully slow progress in this regard, the decision was made to release the names of those Marines who survived this disaster. We did not do this before for obvious reasons. The process was slow, mainly because of the need for complete accuracy. We didn't want to hurt anyone needlessly. Marines and members of your staffs worked tirelessly to ensure that timely and accurate information was released. The enormity of the situation is still upon us, and no one could feel more remorse than I over the prolonged suffering caused to many families by unavoidable delays in notifying them of their loved one's status.
The Marine Corps is proud of many things, but nothing more than the way we take care of our own. I want each of you to know that everything humanly possible is being done to facilitate the process. I would like to thank you and your staff for your assistance and understanding.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, let me say that the subject of increased terrorism against all Americans around the world may be one of the most serious problems which could be addressed by this Committee on a priority basis. This unprecedented, massive "kamikaze" attack was not against young Marines, sailors, and soldiers--it was a vicious, surprise attack against the United States of America and all we stand for in the free world.
Let me say, with all of the emphasis I can, that there are skilled and professional terrorist out there right now who are examining our vulnerabilities and making devices which are designed to kill Americans, lots of Americans around the world, in further acts of mass murder to terrorism. Let there be no doubt about it.
I would hope that the Congress would use this incident of cruel and premeditated mass murder to help us determine way which tell nations that they cannot export and support terrorists who kill innocent Americans with impunity.
The perpetrators and supporters of this challenge to the rights of free men everywhere must be identified and punished. I will have little sleep until this happens.
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[*] [Emphatically true. Nevertheless, political and diplomatic considerations are at the very heart of understanding what happened and why. While the Commandant's omission is entirely understandable, the lack of mention of these political and diplomatic considerations in this history, as well and the Long Commission report and the report of the House Armed Services Committee--which do not share in the constraints imposed on serving officers--cannot be seen as anything other than a whitewash of the political leadership responsible for the primary decisions which led directly to the tragedy! HyperWar]