On this day in 1983, the Beirut barracks bombings decimate the quarters of U.S. and French troops during the Lebanese Civil War. Two truck bombs struck separate buildings housing Multinational Force in Lebanon (MNF) peacekeepers, killing 241 US and 58 French troops, 6 civilians, and the 2 suicide bombers. A group called ‘Islamic Jihad’ claimed responsibility for the bombings and said that the bombings were aimed to get the MNF out of Lebanon.
The multinational peacekeeping force, composed of troops from the United States, France, and Italy, arrived in Lebanon in August 1982 as part of a cease-fire agreement signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The troops were to oversee the safe and peaceful withdrawal of Yasser Arafat and the PLO from positions within Beirut and ensure the safety of the Palestinian civilians that remained behind.
The withdrawal of the PLO was accomplished by early September, the assassination on September 14, 1982, of Lebanese president-elect Bashir Gemayel, the Phalangist leader of the Lebanese Forces, a unified Christian militia, and sparked a wave of violence. Christian militiamen retaliated for Gemayel’s death by killing hundreds to thousands of Palestinians at the Ṣabrā and Shātīlā refugee camps. In the wake of the killings, troops were swiftly returned to Lebanon.
The conditions on the ground seemed to have stabilized by early 1983, and a small group of British peacekeepers joined the existing force in February of that year. On April 18, 1983, that illusion of calm was broken when a car bomb destroyed the U.S. embassy in West Beirut, killing dozens of American foreign service workers and Lebanese civilians.
Israel and Lebanon signed a formal peace agreement the following month that called for the withdrawal of Israeli troops, contingent upon Syria’s withdrawal. Syria opposed the agreement, however, and refused to retreat. In July Israeli troops began a unilateral withdrawal from positions within Lebanon that they had held since June 1982. Fighting between competing militias escalated in the wake of the Israeli withdrawal, and violence against the multinational force increased.
This was the backdrop when on the morning of October 23, 1983, a dump truck packed with an estimated 12,000 pounds of explosives crashed through the front gates of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut. The detonation ripped the four-story building from its foundation, and the barracks imploded in a matter of seconds; the French barracks sustained the second attack moments later.
In the death toll were 220 Marines, 18 sailors, and 3 soldiers, making this incident the deadliest single-day death toll for the United States Marine Corps since World War 2’s Battle of Iwo Jima. It also ranks as the deadliest single-day death toll for the U.S. armed forces since the first day of the Vietnam War’s Tet Offensive, the deadliest single terrorist attack on American citizens in general prior to the September 11 attacks, and the deadliest single terrorist attack on American citizens overseas.
Within four months, elements of the multinational force began to withdraw to ships offshore, and on February 26, 1984, the last U.S. Marines left Beirut.