History: October 23, 1983: US Marine Barracks in Beirut Blown Up by Terrorist

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A Brief History

On October 23, 1983, 241 US servicemen (220 Marines of 1 Battalion 8th Marines Regiment, 18 US Navy sailors, and 3 US Army soldiers) were killed when a truck bomb was driven into the building where the men were quartered.

Digging Deeper

The Marines had been deployed to Beirut by President Ronald Reagan in response to turmoil within Lebanon after the Israeli withdrawal following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.  Reagan promised the Marines would stay no longer than 30 days.  He lied.  With no particular mission other than just to be there as a presence, the Marines were in a miserable location militarily.  Pressure from Washington to avoid appearing to be an occupying force or taking sides led to a refusal by Washington to authorize the defensive measures needed for a proper defense of the Marine position.  Barbed wire and sandbags were limited, and the idiotic decision to house so many men in one building was made in order to soften the presence of the Marines.

At 0622 hours on the fateful day of the bombing, a Mercedes stake bed truck crammed with explosives enhanced by metal canisters of butane smashed through the barbed wire surrounding the Marine quarters and drove into the building, blowing it up and causing the collapse of the 4 story edifice.  The 2 Marine sentries posted at the gate had unloaded M-16 rifles in accordance with orders, and could not load them fast enough to kill the suicide driver, although 1 did get a few ineffective shots off.

The sleeping Americans were sitting ducks, in the middle of a war zone between warring factions and without proper means to defend themselves.  The suicide bomber is alleged to have been an Iranian national, though at the time of the incident President Reagan claimed we had no idea who had perpetrated the terror attack and claimed we should not strike out blindly in retaliation.  We know now, as of 2003, that US intelligence knew much more about Syrian and Iranian involvement with the attack that we let on at the time, but the Reagan administration pretended otherwise and proper retribution was not taken.  In February of 1984, the Marines were withdrawn from Lebanon, having accomplished virtually nothing other than being sacrificed.

President Reagan publicly took responsibility for the debacle, but during the 1984 presidential campaign during a debate blamed Marine commanders, protesting that he, Reagan, had not been the commander on the scene.  In 2001 a lawsuit was filed in Washington against Iran, and the survivors and families of victims were awarded $2.6 billion, but of course did not collect.  Another suit in 2012 resulted in an order for Iran to pay over $800 million to victims, again, in vain.

The truck bomb had been carefully constructed of PETN explosive and butane canisters on top of a concrete and marble slab on the bed of the truck, in order to create a fuel air explosive effect directed upwards to maximize the destructive effect on the building, specifically that particular building.  The layout of the Marine quarters was such that the truck was able to drive into the lobby, thus being inside on the ground floor when it exploded.  The blast was the equivalent of about 21,000 pounds of TNT, and Marine eyewitnesses some distance away initially thought they had been nuked.

Meanwhile, about 4 miles away a French peacekeeping force was also attacked 10 minutes later, bringing down their 9 story building and killing 58 French paratroopers.

The price paid for foolish military intervention without clear purpose and goals is steep.  It is a lesson the US apparently has still not learned, as evidenced by our military misadventures since the infamous Beirut Bombing.  Will we ever learn?  Personally, I believe we will not, not as long as politicians are in charge.  What do you think?  We welcome your thoughts on this incident and its ongoing implications.

“Beirut wasn’t sensible and it never did serve a purpose.  It was goofy from the beginning.” – General Colin Powell.

“They’re in a position of extraordinary danger. They have no mission.  They have no capability of carrying out a mission, and they’re terribly vulnerable.” – Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of Defense at the time of the attack.

(Note:Much of the information comes from the author’s own dealing with eyewitnesses to the event.  The author was a US Marine intelligence officer and the casualty replacement for the S-2 Intelligence officer of 1st Battalion 8th Marines that was killed in the blast.)

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.