October 23 This day during the Lebanese Civil War 

October 23, 1983  – The Beirut Barracks Bombing in Beirut, Lebanon occurred during the Lebanese Civil War when two truck bombs struck separate buildings housing United States and French military forces—members of the Multinational Force (MNF) in Lebanon—killing 299 American and French servicemen. An obscure group calling itself ‘Islamic Jihad’ claimed responsibility for the bombings. Suicide bombers detonated each of the truck bombs. In the attack on the building serving as a barracks for the 1st Battalion 8th Marines (Battalion Landing Team – BLT 1/8), the death toll was 241 American servicemen: 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers, making this incident the deadliest single-day death toll for the United States Marine Corps since World War II’s Battle of Iwo Jima, the deadliest single-day death toll for the United States military since the first day of the Vietnam War’s Tet Offensive, and the deadliest single attack on Americans overseas since World War II. Another 128 Americans were wounded in the blast. Thirteen later died of their injuries, and they are numbered among the total number who died. An elderly Lebanese man, a custodian/vendor who was known to work and sleep in his concession stand next to the building, was also killed in the first blast. The explosives used were later estimated to be equivalent to as much as 9,525 kg (21,000 pounds) of TNT. In the attack on the French barracks, the nine-story ‘Drakkar’ building, 58 paratroopers from the 1st Parachute Chasseur Regiment were killed and 15 injured by a second truck bomb. This attack occurred just minutes after the attack on the American Marines. It was France’s single worst military loss since the end of the Algerian War. The wife and four children of a Lebanese janitor at the French building were also killed, and more than twenty other Lebanese civilians were injured.  These attacks eventually led to the withdrawal of the international peacekeeping force from Lebanon, where they had been stationed since the withdrawal of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) following the Israeli 1982 invasion of Lebanon. At around 6:22 a.m., a 19 ton, yellow, Mercedes-Benz stake-bed truck drove to the Beirut International Airport (BIA), where the U.S. 24th Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU) was deployed. The 1st Battalion 8th Marines (BLT), commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Larry Gerlach, was a subordinate element of the 24th MAU. The truck was not the water truck they had been expecting. Instead, it was a hijacked truck carrying explosives. The driver turned his truck onto an access road leading to the compound. He drove into and circled the parking lot, and then he accelerated to crash through a 5-foot-high barrier of concertina wire separating the parking lot from the building. The wire popped “like somebody walking on twigs.” The 19-ton Mercedes-Benz truck then passed between two sentry posts, passed through an open vehicle gate in the perimeter chain-link fence, crashed through a guard shack in front of the building and smashed into the lobby of the building serving as the barracks for the 1st Battalion 8th Marines (BLT). The sentries at the gate were operating under rules of engagement which made it very difficult to respond quickly to the truck. Sentries were ordered to keep their weapons at condition four (no magazine inserted and no rounds in the chamber). Only one sentry, LCPL Eddie DiFranco, was able to load and chamber a round. However, by that time the truck was already crashing into the building’s entry way: armed. The suicide bomber, an Iranian national named Ismail Ascari, reached the entry way at 6:22 and detonated his explosives, which were later estimated to be equivalent to approximately 9525 kg (21,000 pounds) of TNT. The force of the explosion collapsed the four-story building into rubble, crushing many inside. The explosive mechanism was a gas-enhanced device consisting of compressed butane in canisters employed with pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN) to create a fuel-air explosive. The bomb was carried on a layer of concrete covered with a slab of marble to direct the blast upward. Despite the lack of sophistication and wide availability of its component parts, a gas-enhanced device can be a lethal weapon. These devices were similar to fuel-air or thermobaric weapons, explaining the large blast and damage. An after-action forensic investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) determined that the bomb was so powerful, it would probably have brought down the building even if the sentries had managed to stop the truck between the gate and the building. Less than ten minutes later, a similar attack occurred against the barracks of the French 3rd Company of the 1st Parachute Chasseur Regiment, 6 km away in the Ramlet al Baida area of West Beirut. As the suicide bomber drove his pickup truck towards the ‘Drakkar’ building, French paratroopers began shooting at the truck and its driver. It is believed that the driver was killed and the truck was immobilized and rolled to stop about fifteen yards from the building. A few moments passed; then, the truck exploded bringing down the nine-story building and killing 58 French paratroopers. It is believed that this bomb was detonated by remote control, and it is estimated that this bomb, though similarly constructed, was not as large as and was slightly less than half as powerful as the one used against the Marines at the Beirut International Airport. Many of the paratroopers had gathered on their balconies moments earlier to see what was happening at the airport It was France’s worst military loss since the end of the Algerian War in 1962.  Organized rescue efforts began immediately—within three minutes of the bombing—and continued for days. Unit maintenance personnel were not billeted in the BLT building, and they rounded up pry bars, torches, jacks and other equipment from unit vehicles and maintenance shops and began rescue operations. Meanwhile, combat engineers and truck drivers began using their organic assets, i.e., trucks and engineering equipment, to help with the rescue operations. 24th MAU medical personnel, Navy dentists LT Gil Bigelow and LT Jim Ware, established two aid stations to triage and treat casualties.  Medevac helicopters, CH-46s from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 126, were airborne by 6:45 AM. U.S. Navy medical personnel from nearby vessels of the U.S. Sixth Fleet went ashore to assist with treatment and medical evacuation of the injured, as did sailors and shipboard Marines who volunteered to assist with the rescue effort. Lebanese, Italian, British, and even French troops, who had suffered their own loss, provided assistance. Many Lebanese civilians voluntarily joined the rescue effort.  Especially important was a Lebanese construction contractor, Rafiq Hariri of the firm Oger-Liban, who provided heavy construction equipment, e.g., a 40 ton P & H crane, etc., from nearby BIA worksites. Hariri’s construction equipment proved vitally necessary in lifting and removing heavy slabs of concrete debris at the barracks site just as it had been necessary in assisting with clearing debris after the April U.S. Embassy attack. While the rescuers were at times hindered by hostile sniper and artillery fire, several Marine survivors were pulled from the rubble at the BLT 1/8 bomb site and airlifted by helicopter to the U.S.S. Iwo Jima (LPH-2), located offshore. U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force and Royal Air Force medevac planes transported the seriously wounded to the hospital at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus and to U.S. and German hospitals in West Germany. A few survivors, including LTC Gerlach, were sent to the Italian MNF dispensary and to Lebanese hospitals in Beiru Israel’s offers to medevac the wounded to hospitals in Israel were rejected as politically unacceptable even though Israeli hospitals were known to provide excellent care and were considerably closer than hospitals in Germany. At about noon Sunday, October 23, the last survivor was pulled from the rubble; he was LTJG Danny G. Wheeler, Lutheran chaplain for BLT 1/8. Other men survived beyond Sunday, but they succumbed to their injuries before they could be extracted from the rubble. By Wednesday, the majority of the bodies and body parts had been recovered from the stricken barracks, and the recovery effort ended on Friday.  After five days, the FBI came in to investigate, and the Marines returned to normal duties. “The explosion at the French barracks blew the whole building off its foundations and threw it about 20 feet westward, while breaking the windows of almost every apartment house in the neighborhood…Grim-faced French paratroopers and Lebanese civil defense workers aided by bulldozers also worked under spotlights through the night at the French barracks, trying to pull apart the eight stories of three-foot-thick cement that had fallen on top of one another and to reach the men they could still hear screaming for help. They regularly pumped oxygen into the mountain of rubble to keep those who were still trapped below alive.” U.S. President Ronald Reagan called the attack a “despicable act” and pledged to keep a military force in Lebanon. U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who had privately advised the administration against stationing U.S. Marines in Lebanon, said there would be no change in the U.S.’s Lebanon policy. French President François Mitterrand and other French dignitaries visited both the French and American bomb sites to offer their personal condolences on Monday, October 24, 1983. It was not an official visit, and President Mitterrand only stayed for a few hours, but he did declare “We will stay.” During his visit, President Mitterrand visited each of the scores of American caskets and made the sign of the cross as his mark of respectful observance for each of the fallen peacekeepers. U.S. Vice President George H. W. Bush arrived and made a tour of the destroyed BLT barracks on Wednesday, October 26, 1983. Vice President Bush toured the site and said the U.S. “would not be cowed by terrorists.” Vice President Bush also visited with wounded U.S. personnel aboard the U.S.S. Iwo Jima (LPH-2), and he took time to meet with the commanders of the other MNF units (French, Italian and British) deployed in Beirut. In retaliation for the attacks, France launched an airstrike in the Bekaa Valley against alleged Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) positions. President Reagan assembled his national security team and planned to target the Sheik Abdullah barracks in Baalbek, Lebanon, which housed Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) believed to be training Hezbollah militants. A joint American-French air assault on the camp where the bombing was planned was also approved by Reagan and Mitterrand. U.S. Defense Secretary Weinberger lobbied successfully against the mission, because at the time it was not certain that Iran was behind the attack. Some of the U.S. Marines in Beirut were moved to transport vessels offshore where they could not be targeted; yet, they would be ready and available to serve as a ready reaction force in Beirut if needed. For protection against snipers and artillery attacks, the Marines remaining at the airport built and moved into bunkers in the ground employing ‘appropriated’ Soviet-bloc CONEXes. COL Geraghty requested and received reinforcements to replace his unit losses.  BLT 2/6, the Division Marine Air Alert Battalion stationed at Camp Lejeune, NC, and commanded by LTC Edwin C. Kelley, was dispatched and flown into Beirut by four C-141s in less than 36 hours after the bombing. LTC Kelley officially replaced the seriously injured BLT 1/8 commander, LTC Gerlach. LTC Kelley quietly redesignated his unit, BLT 2/6, as BLT 1/8 to help bolster the morale of the BLT 1/8 survivors. On November 18, 1983, the 22d MAU rotated into Beirut and relieved in place the 24th MAU. The 24th MAU returned to Camp Lejeune, NC, for training and refitting. Eventually, it became evident that the U.S. would launch no serious and immediate retaliatory attack for the Beirut Marine barracks bombing beyond naval barrages and air strikes used to interdict continuous harassing fire from Druze and Syrian missile and artillery sites. A true retaliatory strike failed to materialize because there was a rift in White House counsel (largely between Department of State’s George P. Shultz and Departmant of Defense’s Weinberger) and because the extant evidence pointing at Iranian involvement was circumstantial at that time: the Islamic Jihad, which took credit for the attack, was a front for Hezbollah which was acting as a proxy for Iran; thus, affording Iran plausible deniability. Secretary of State Schultz was an advocate for retaliaton, but Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger was against retaliation. Secretary of Defense Weinberger, in a September 2001 FRONTLINE interview, reaffirmed that rift in White House counsel when he claimed that the U.S. still lacks “‘actual knowledge of who did the bombing’ of the Marine barracks.” The U.S.S. New Jersey (BB-62) had arrived and taken up station off Beirut on September 25, 1983. Special Representative in the Middle East Robert McFarlane’s team had requested the New Jersey after the August 29th Druze mortar attack that killed two Marines. After the October 23rd bombing, on November 28, the U.S. government announced that the New Jersey would remain stationed off Beirut although her crew would be rotated. It wasn’t until December 14 that the New Jersey finally joined the fray and fired 11 projectiles from her 16-inch guns at hostile targets near Beirut. This was the first time 16-inch shells were fired for effect anywhere in the world since the New Jersey ended her time on the gunline in Vietnam in 1969.[98] Also in December 1983, U.S. aircraft from the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy (CV-67) and U.S.S. Independence (CV-62) battle groups attacked Syrian targets in Lebanon, but this was ostensibly in response to Syrian missile attacks on American warplanes. In the meantime, the attack boosted the prestige and growth of the Shiite organization Hezbollah. Hezbollah officially denied any involvement in the attacks, but was seen by Lebanese as involved nonetheless as it praised the “two martyr mujahideen” who “set out to inflict upon the U.S. Administration an utter defeat, not experienced since Vietnam.” Hezbollah was now seen by many as “the spearhead of the sacred Muslim struggle against foreign occupation”. The 1983 report of the U.S. Department of Defense Commission’s on the attack recommended that the National Security Council investigate and consider alternative ways to reach “American objectives in Lebanon” because, “as progress to diplomatic solutions slows,” the security of the USMNF base continues to “deteriorate.” The commission also recommended a review for the development of a broader range of “appropriate military, political, and diplomatic responses to terrorism.” Military preparedness needed improvement in the development of “doctrine, planning, organization, force structure, education, and training” to better combat terrorism, while the USMNF was “not prepared” to deal with the terrorist threat at the time due to “lack of training, staff, organization, and support” specifically for defending against “terror threats.” Amal movement leader Nabih Berri, who had previously supported U.S. mediation efforts, asked the U.S. and France to leave Lebanon and accused the two countries of seeking to commit ‘massacres’ against the Lebanese and of creating a “climate of racism” against Shias. Islamic Jihad phoned in new threats against the MNF pledging that “the earth would tremble” unless the MNF withdrew by New Year’s Day 1984. On February 7, 1984, President Reagan ordered the Marines to begin withdrawing from Lebanon largely because of waning congressional support for the mission after the attacks on the barracks. The withdrawal of the 22d MAU from the BIA was completed 12:37 PM on February 26, 1984. “Fighting between the Lebanese Army and Druze militia in the nearby Shouf mountains provided a noisy backdrop to the Marine evacuation. One officer commented: ‘This ceasefire is getting louder.'” On February 8, 1984, the U.S.S. New Jersey fired almost 300 shells at Druze and Syrian positions in the Bekaa Valley east of Beirut. This was the heaviest shore bombardment since the Korean War. “In a nine-hour period, the U.S.S. New Jersey fired 288 16-inch rounds, each one weighing as much as a Volkswagen Beetle. In those nine-hours, the ship consumed 40 percent of the 16-inch ammunition available in the entire European theater…[and] in one burst of wretched excess,” the New Jersey seemed to be unleashing eighteen months of repressed fury. “Many Lebanese still recall the ‘flying Volkswagens,’ the name given to the huge shells that struck the Shouf.” In addition to destroying Syrian and Druze artillery and missile sites, approximately 30 of these behemouth projectiles rained down on a Syrian command post, killing the senior commanding Syrian general in Lebanon along with several of his senior officers. Some of New Jersey’s shells missed their intended targets and killed noncombatants, mostly Shiites and Druze. Following the U.S.’ lead, the rest of the multinational force, the British, French and Italians, was withdrawn by the end of February 1984. The ship borne 22d MAU contingent remained stationed offshore near Beirut while a detached 100 man ready reaction force remained stationed ashore near the U.S./U.K. Embassy. The 22d MAU was relieved in place by the 24th MAU on April 10, 1984. On April 21, the ready reaction force in Beirut was deactivated and its men were reassigned to their respective ships. In late July, 1984, the last Marines from the 24th MAU, the U.S./U.K. Embassy guard detail, was withdrawn from Beirut. At the time of the bombing, an obscure group called the “Islamic Jihad” claimed responsibility for the attack. There were many in the U.S. government, such as Vice President Bush, Secretary of State George P. Shultz, and National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane (who was formerly Reagan’s Mideast envoy), who believed Iran and/or Syria were/was responsible for the bombings. After some years of investigation, the U.S. government now believes that elements of what would eventually become Hezbollah, backed by Iran and Syria, were responsible for these bombings as well as the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut earlier in April. It is believed that Hezbollah used the name “Islamic Jihad” in order to remain anonymous. Hezbollah eventually announced its existence in 1985. To date, Hezbollah, Iran and Syria have continued to deny any involvement in any of the bombings; even though, in 2004, Iran erected a monument in Teheran to commemorate the 1983 bombings and its martyrs.  Two years after the bombing, a U.S. grand jury secretly indicted Imad Mughniyah for his terrorist activities. Mughniyah was never captured, but he was killed by a car bomb in Syria on February 12, 2008. Commentators argue that the lack of a response by the Americans emboldened terrorist organizations to conduct further attacks against U.S. targets. Along with the U.S. embassy bombing, the barracks bombing prompted the Inman Report, a review of the security of U.S. facilities overseas for the U.S. State Department. On March 8, 1985, a truck bomb blew up in Beirut killing more than 80 people and injuring more than two hundred. The bomb detonated near the apartment block of Sheikh Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, a Shia cleric thought by many to be the spiritual leader of Hezbollah. Although the U.S. did not engage in any direct military retaliation to the attack on the Beirut barracks, the 1985 terrorist bombing was widely believed by Fadlallah and his supporters to be the work of the United States; Sheikh Fadlallah stating that `They sent me a letter and I got the message,` and an enormous sign on the remains of one bombed building reading: `Made in the U.S.A.`” Robert Fisk also claims that CIA operatives planted the bomb and that evidence of this is found in an article in The Washington Post newspaper. Journalist Robin Wright quotes articles in The Washington Post and The New York Times as saying that according to the CIA the “Lebanese intelligence personnel and other foreigners had been undergoing CIA training” but that “this was not our [CIA] operation and it was nothing we planned or knew about.” “Alarmed U.S. officials subsequently canceled the covert training operation” in Lebanon, according to Wright. 


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