At 0619 on a bright October morning in Beirut, Lebanon, a Mercedes pickup truck packed with explosives raced past US Marine sentries with empty weapons, sped through largely dismantled vehicle barriers, through a fence, and into the lower floor of the US Marine Barracks that held HQ Company Battalion Landing Team 1/8. The explosion, one of the largest non-nuclear detonations since the end of World War II, collapsed the barracks, killing 241 Americans (mostly Marines) and burying and wounding dozens of others.
The facts from Beirut were grim and maddening. Sentries without loaded weapons, crew-served guns with no ammo belts, lack of barriers on high-speed avenues of approach. All tactical sins, all foisted upon BLT 1/8 by those in Congress and in government concerned with “posture” and “appearances”.
Imad Mughniyeh, the alleged mastermind of the Beirut attack (where a simultaneous bombing killed 58 French soldiers) died in a car bombing in Lebanon in 2008. In the intervening 25 years, he ran rampant throughout the world, killing and terrorizing as far away as Argentina. He was responsible for the hijacking of TWA 847 in 1985, and the murder of US Navy Diver Robert Stethem, 23, a passenger on that flight. In addition, Mughniyeh was linked to the bombing of the Khobar Towers.
Some hard lessons came out of that physical, military, and diplomatic rubble. One would think that they would be with us yet. Some apparently either forgot, or never learned.
- Muslim extremist are willing to die in order to kill Americans, even when they are send to help other Muslims.
- Proper “posture” is one in which US Servicemen are allowed to defend themselves and kill the enemy.
- Restraint in pursuing and killing those responsible for such acts is seen as weakness by America’s Muslim Extremist enemies, and such encourages more and more terrorism and killing.
We learned, though. Didn’t we?
Well, the words coming from Afghanistan sound eerily familiar. Overly restrictive rules of engagement that allow the enemy to engage and disengage at will unless caught in the act of shooting at American servicemen. An admonition on the parts of General McChrystal and CJCS Admiral Mullen for US Servicemen to take “more risks” and not be so concerned about their own protection. An outpost sited on poor defensive ground and vulnerable to attack, positioned not by tactical necessity, but by political expedience. Again we hear the words “appearance” and “posture”. We see the handcuffs on our servicemen engaged in combat with an elusive and ruthless enemy.
Let’s hope we don’t hear again how US Soldiers or Marines died sleeping, or without a chance to fight back, because appearance, posture, risk, and political expedience put them in that position. On 23 October, 1983, 241 US lives were lost. If we do not remember them, and how and why they were lost, we allow those lost lives to be wasted.
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