By Karim Al-Amin – Oct 23, 2023
Around 5:30 a.m. on the morning of Sunday, October 23, 1983, a yellow Mercedes truck entered the main compound of the United States Marine Corps (the marines) near Beirut Airport. The truck driver circled the area south of the parking lot of the compound and then left the premises. At 6:22 a.m., the truck returned and broke into the compound. However, this time it approached from the west side of the parking area, making a detour, before heading directly towards the barbed wire fence that separated the parking area from the building. After crashing through the fence, it broke through the front doors and exploded in the main lobby inside the building. The force of the explosion lifted the four-story building into the air, destroying the support columns and foundations before the entire building collapsed.
Numerous narratives and theories have been presented about what happened; most people agree with the conclusions of investigations conducted by the US government. However, no group has taken responsibility for the act or presented an explanation of how it was carried out. Eyewitnesses, on the other hand, unanimously agreed that what occurred seemed like a well-planned operation. The guards said they had previously seen the truck and did not suspect anything about it because it resembled the trucks that delivered supplies to the compound. The guards were caught completely off guard and did not even open fire on it before it breached the security checkpoint and the main entrance. According to Deputy Sergeant Eddie DeFranco, who survived and was stationed at guard post number seven, near the main entrance where the truck broke in, when he first saw the truck before it approached, he believed it was just another of the dozens of trucks that transported water, goods, and other equipment from the airport on a daily basis.
Conflicting estimates have circulated regarding the amount of explosives planted in the truck, but most experts believe it was approximately five tons of highly explosive TNT. The explosives were deliberately arranged in order to direct the force of the explosion upward, resulting in significant destruction and injuries to everyone inside the building. It was later announced that 241 US citizens were killed, including 220 marines.
Just a few minutes after the explosion, another massive explosion struck a building known as Drakkar, a few kilometers away, where the French paratroopers were stationed, killing 58 of them. The cause of this explosion is also disputed; however it was initially attributed to a car bomb loaded with approximately five tons of explosives.
Another narrative about the truck was presented 30 years later. In 2013, the French newspaper Le Monde published an investigation based on the investigations carried out by the French government. It cited testimonies from French soldiers who were in a nearby building called Catamaran, located less than 100 meters from Drakkar. They stated that they had gone onto the balcony after the US compound explosion, and, two minutes later, Drakkar exploded. However, they claimed they did not see any truck entering the building. The officer responsible for protecting the surviving building, Omer Marie Magdeleine, stated that “the building was surrounded by fences, each entrance was protected by barriers with machine guns and anti-tank weapons, and the street was closed from both sides. Between the fences and barriers it would be impossible for a truck to pass without being noticed.” Nonetheless, none of these witnesses were interviewed during the official investigations, and survivors were prohibited from speaking to anyone about the event.
Washington sent retired admiral Robert L.J. Long, a representative of the US Department of Defense, to investigate the bombing of the marines’ headquarters. But the situation was rapidly deteriorating for Washington’s forces, as operations against the marines continued until former US President Ronald Reagan announced, on February 7, 1984, the transfer of the marines from the bases in Beirut to US ships on the shore. Over the next two weeks, the battleship USS New Jersey carried out retaliatory bombing operations against many areas in Lebanon before the US order was issued to permanently leave Lebanon and its waters on February 26, 1984.
Who was behind the operation?
The bombing at the marines’ headquarters was not an ordinary event for Washington. It had significant repercussions which eventually led to the collapse of Washington’s puppet government in Lebanon and the retreat of “Israeli” forces into southern Lebanon. Because of the ongoing Cold War with the Soviet Union, Washington initially accused Moscow and Damascus of being behind the attack or facilitating it. However, US military intelligence swiftly blamed a new group on the scene: mujahideen with connections to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
A relatively short time after the US directly accused fighters close to Iran of being behind the attack, the West started linking it to the attacks on US intelligence officers in Lebanon, including the captured US and Western hostages. Within a few years, the Western governments began to suggest that the groups affiliated with Hezbollah were responsible for these operations. This is when the martyr Imad Mughniyeh was placed at the top of the US most wanted list.
US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) teams that rotated through Middle East assignments always carried a grudge against those whom they held responsible for the attack. According to a number of US reports written by former intelligence analysts, “the hunt for Imad Mughniyeh was personal.” Washington also accused al-Hajj Radwan (Imad Mughniyeh) of orchestrating the bombing of the US embassy in Beirut in 1983, which led to the destruction of the entire CIA station and the death of the head of the agency’s Middle East branch. It was also claimed that he was responsible for the abduction and execution of the CIA station chief William Buckley in 1984. Buckley had been sent to Beirut in 1983 to establish a new CIA station after the previous one was destroyed. A senior official in the Central Intelligence Agency stated that “Buckley’s capture led to the closure of all CIA activities in [Lebanon].”
In his book Known and Unknown, Donald Rumsfeld, the US special envoy to Lebanon during the Reagan administration, devoted a special chapter to the bombing of the marine barracks in Beirut, which he called “Smiling Death.” Everyone who writes about that operation mentions that, according to eyewitnesses, the driver of the truck that destroyed the marines’ headquarters was seen smiling seconds before the explosion. The explosion killed 241 soldiers out of the 350 who made up the 1st Battalion 8th Marines, and is the largest blow to the marines in their history. Rumsfeld stated the bombing of the Marine Corps Headquarters was the largest terrorist attack on the United States before September 11th.
Rumsfeld himself quoted a statement by the then US vice president, George H.W. Bush, in which Bush vowed, “we’re not going to let a bunch of insidious terrorists, cowards, shape the foreign policy of the United States.” Rumsfeld commented that “I was uncomfortable with his word choice. I have never thought people willing to drive a truck bomb into a building and kill themselves were cowards.” Rumsfeld also notes that he told US secretary of state at the time, George Shultz, firstly, that US policymakers “should close the gap between inflated perceptions of our abilities and reality;” secondly to “never use US troops as a “peacekeeping force,” we were too big a target;” and, thirdly, ”keep reminding ourselves that it is easier to get into something than it is to get out of it.”
Today, 40 years after one of the most important resistance operations against the US occupation in the region, the leaders of the United States are repeating the same scenario. Just days ago, United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered 2,000 US soldiers to be prepared for the possibility of participating in a war alongside “Israel.” However, experts believe that this group of military personnel will not have combat roles but will be limited to logistical support. Nevertheless, this step may serve as a prelude to sending more soldiers on combat missions in the future. In the event that the United States decides to directly enter the ongoing war today, those in Lebanon and the region are waiting for them. Among them are Lebanese who adhere to the Lebanese Ministry of Tourism’s campaign, saying to them, “Ahla Bhal Talleh!” (which translates to something along the lines of “we welcome you to here, now that you are here!”).
The US military in Lebanon… with nuclear weapons, too!
The visit of the US marine amphibious unit to Lebanon in 1982 was not the first of its kind; an earlier one took place in 1958 at the request of President Camille Chamoun, who was facing an armed popular uprising against his rule. On that occasion, President Eisenhower sent the Second Battalion of the US Marine Corps. 1,700 soldiers arrived at the shores of Beirut, with more than 70 US Navy warships of the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet.
According to Bruce Riedel’s book, Beirut 1958: How America’s Wars in the Middle East Began, this was the first time in history that the United States sent combat forces to the Arab region. He adds that in July 1958, Lebanon was on the brink of catastrophe, with Muslims considering that Washington’s intervention was against them and the Christians believing that Washington had come to rescue their leader, Camille Chamoun. The US was preparing for war. According to the US author, Washington requested that Germany bring missile batteries, some of which included nuclear warheads. However, as soon as the missiles arrived by sea, they were flown back to Germany, and the Lebanese crisis ended diplomatically.
After the “Israeli” invasion of Lebanon in June 1982 and the occupation of Beirut after expelling the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) fighters, the so-called peacekeeping forces were sent to Beirut and tasked with overseeing the evacuation of Palestinian fighters. The foreign force at that time consisted of 800 US marines, 400 French soldiers, and 800 Italian soldiers. After the removal of Palestinian fighters, the US force left in mid-September, only to return to Lebanon on September 26 of the same year following the assassination of Bashir Gemayel, and the Zionist enemy and its allies in the Lebanese Front carried out the massacre of Sabra and Shatila. The marine force was then incorporated into the “peacekeeping force.”
Between October and December of the same year, weapons and armored vehicles were transferred from US warships to the mainland. Some US forces also conducted patrols in the eastern neighborhoods of Beirut, behind what was then known as the “Green Line.” In parallel, US forces implemented a training program for elements of the Lebanese army.
Islamic Jihad Movement operations against US soldiers
As military confrontations escalated against the Israeli aggression in Lebanon, Lebanese and Palestinian factions began carrying out more and more operations. After the relative calm following the departure of Palestinian fighters and the strengthening of President Amin Gemayel’s rule, new fedayeen [fighter] groups emerged. These groups used aliases intended to emphasize their ideological character. The most prominent among them was the Islamic Jihad Organization, which claimed responsibility for many operations, including the bombings of the marines’ and French paratroopers’ headquarters.
So-called peacekeeping soldiers were subjected to numerous attacks. On March 16, 1983, five marines were wounded in an attack in south Beirut. A month later, at precisely 1 p.m. on April 18, a truck loaded with about one ton of explosives breached the US embassy in Beirut and detonated, destroying the building and causing significant losses, including 17 Americans, eight of whom were CIA officers, and more than 100 others injured. The bombing occurred specifically during a special meeting of high-level CIA officers in the region.
In May of the same year, Resistance forces shot at a marine helicopter carrying Colonel James Mead, the marine commander in Lebanon. In August and September, the marine barracks near Beirut Airport came under multiple attacks, resulting in the deaths of five soldiers and the injury of 49 others. Additionally, the French and Italian military units were attacked, resulting in the death of a French soldier and injuries to five Italian soldiers.
In September as well, the destroyers USS John Rodgers and USS Virginia shelled areas in Mount Lebanon, and large shells targeted the areas between Shouf and Aley, which were under the control of pro-Syrian Lebanese forces. On September 24 of the same year, the battleship USS New Jersey arrived off the coast of Beirut. During that period, the pace of attacks against the occupying forces increased, with machine-gun fire targeting two marine helicopters and wounding two of their soldiers. A soldier was killed on October 14, five others were wounded due to sniper fire, and another soldier was injured due to a bombing. On the 19th of the same month, four marines were injured after an attempt to bomb their vehicle was foiled.
Featured Photo: British soldiers assist in rescue operations at the site of the bomb-wrecked US Marine command center near the Beirut airport in Lebanon, Oct. 23, 1983. Photo:Bill Foley/AP.
Translated by Orinoco Tribune
orinocotribunehttps://orinocotribune.com/author/orinocotribune/December 5, 2023