Author: Jenkins, Brian Michael
Title: The Lessons of Beirut: Testimony Before the Long Commission
Published: Santa Monica, CA : Rand, 1984
Description: vi, 13 p.; 28 cm.
Series: A Rand Note ; N-2114-RC
Rand publications Series
Call Number/UPenn Library: HV6433.L4 J45 1984
A RAND NOTE
THE LESSONS OF BEIRUT:
TESTIMONY BEFORE THE LONG COMMISSION
Brian Michael Jenkins
1700 MAIN STREET
P.O. BOX 2138
SANTA MONICA, CA 90406-2138
presents the text of a briefing given on November 17, 1983, to members
of the DoD Commission on the Beirut International Airport (BIA) Terrorist
Act of October 23, 1983. The Commission was led by Admiral Robert L.
J. Long, U.S. Navy (Ret.).
summary of the report prepared by the Commission is included as an appendix
to this Note.
on the Marine Headquarters in Beirut conforms to several trends in international
terrorism: The volume of terrorist activity has increased in the last
15 years, terrorism has grown bloodier, and there is increasing use
of terrorism by governments. We may be on the threshold of an era in
which limited conventional war, classic guerrilla warfare, and international
terrorism will coexist, with both governments and subnational entities
employing them individually, interchangeably, sequentially, or simultaneously.
As a result, the United States will be compelled to maintain capabilities
for defending against and, with the exception of terrorism, waging all
three modes of conflict.
Physical protection against terrorism poses a number of problems. Terrorist
groups are hard to predict and hard to penetrate. Whereas they can attack
anything, anywhere, anytime, governments cannot protect everything,
everywhere, all the time. Physical protection is costly and can not
only divert manpower from the primary mission, but can render those
defended incapable of performing primary missions.
If more governments opt to use terrorism and the international community
fails to impose effective sanctions, military force may become the only
means of combatting terrorism. The kinds of military operations in which
U.S. armed forces may become involved include preemptive, search and
recovery, rescue, and retaliatory or punitive operations. Retaliatory
operations include shows of force, selective targeting against a specific
target, lateral attacks against terrorist targets in general, support
of dissident elements, and full-scale military operations.
Security against terrorism must be a planning factor in any military
operation. The collection and analysis of intelligence about terrorism
can and should be improved to better anticipate terrorist attacks, accurately
assign culpability, and develop appropriate countermeasures. There is
a need to invent additional low-cost responses that keep terrorist attacks
from forcing the United States to escalate militarily. Regular military
forces may not be adequately prepared to operate in terrorist environments,
and they will have to learn to do this. It would be a mistake to consign
the problems of terrorism to special forces only; the entire armed forces
must be able to confront diverse modes of conflict, including terrorism.
LESSONS OF BEIRUT
The attack on the Marine Headquarters in Beirut conforms to several
trends in international terrorism: It was an attack calculated to cause
heavy casualties It involved the use of a vehicle loaded with explosives.
There is a high probability that the attack was instigated by a government.
raises a number of difficult questions: How can the Marines in Lebanon
or other American forces in similar situations be protected against
further terrorist attacks? Who was responsible for the attack? And if
we can identify who was ultimately responsible, what response, if any,
briefly reviews some of the recent trends in terrorism and examines
the implications of growing international terrorism for the U.S. military.
IN INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM
Despite government success in combatting terrorists in various
countries, the total volume of terrorist activity worldwide has increased
during the last 15 years. The first three years of the 1980s showed
an annual increase in international terrorism of approximately 25 percent--twice
the rate of increase in the 1970s. Overall, international terrorist
activity has increased fourfold since the 1972 Munich incident.
Terrorism also is growing bloodier. At the beginning of the 1970s, 80
percent of terrorist operations were directed against property; only
20 percent were directed against people. By the 1980s, approximately
half of all attacks were directed against persons. Incidents with fatalities
have increased by roughly 20 percent a year, and large-scale indiscriminate
attacks have become more common.
These trends continued in 1983. The total volume of international terrorist
activity for the first eight months of 1983 is about equal to that recorded
during the same period of 1982. However, 1983 is much bloodier. Although
the percentage of terrorist incidents with fatalities thus far appears
only slightly greater, the proportion of incidents with mug tips e fatalities
is much greater. In 1983, more than one person was killed in 59 percent
of those incidents with fatalities, whereas the average from 1980 to
1982 was 37 percent.
This trend is even more dramatic when we look at the growing number
of terrorist incidents involving 10 or more fatalities. There have been
12 of these thus far in 1983, compared with a total of 11 during the
previous three years. This trend is confirmed by still another statistic:
The number of terrorist attacks directed against ordinary citizens,
bystanders who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, has
increased by 68 percent. As in past years, most of the fatalities are
the result of bombings, which in 1983 became more indiscriminate.
operate with a very limited tactical repertoire. Bombings alone account
for roughly half of all terrorist incidents. Six basic tactics comprise
95 percent of the total: bombings, assassinations, armed assaults, kidnappings,
barricade and-hostage situations, and hijackings. No terrorist group
uses all of them.
The terrorists' tactical repertoire has for the most part changed little
over time. One growing tactic is the car bomb, or as we have seen in
Lebanon, truck bombs. Car bombs have been used with devastating effect
in recent months in Beirut, London, Paris, and Pretoria. Barricade-and-hostage
situations have declined. Seizing hostages at embassies, consulates,
and other government buildings was a popular terrorist tactic in the
1970s. But heavy security has made such takeovers more difficult, while
no concessions policies and increased willingness to use force to end
hostage episodes decreased the probabilities of payoff and increased
the risks to the terrorists There were 20 such incidents in 1980, 10
in 1981, and 5 in 1982. Overall, however, terrorist attacks on diplomats
and embassies did not decline. Assassinations and bombings simply replaced
This suggests that security does work in reducing certain tactics, but
not in reducing terrorism overall. Terrorists are nimble. If one set
of targets is well-protected or one tactic becomes more dangerous, terrorists
merely shift their sights or alter their tactics to obviatethe security
measures. Protection against car bombs may reduce car-bomb incidents;
terrorists will do something else instead.
While terrorists have demonstrated greater willingness to kill larger
numbers of people, they have not for the most part shown themselves
to be suicidal. The exceptions appear to be cultural: Shi'ite Moslem
fanatics; earlier, members of the Japanese Red Army. It seems unlikely
that suicidal attacks will gain widespread favor among the world's terrorist
Terrorist attacks are directed almost exclusively against civilian targets.
Fewer than 10 percent of the incidents in Rand's chronology of international
terrorism were directed against the military or police.
American citizens and facilities are-the most frequent targets in international
terrorism, figuring in 29 percent of all incidents. About 30 percent
of these have been directed against the U.S. military.
NEW ERA OF CONFLICT
A growing number of governments themselves are using terrorist
tactics, employing terrorist groups, or exploiting terrorist incidents
as a mode of surrogate warfare. These governments see in terrorism a
useful capability, a "weapons system," a cheap means of waging war.
Terrorists fill a need. Modern conventional war is increasingly impractical.
It is too destructive. It is too expensive. World and sometimes domestic
opinion impose constraints. Terrorists offer a possible alternative
to open armed conflict. For some nations unable to mount a conventional
military challenge--for example, Libya versus the United States--terrorism
is the only alternative, an "equalizer."
We may be on the threshold of an era of armed conflict in which limited
conventional warfare, classic guerrilla warfare, and international terrorism
will coexist, with both government and subnational entities employing
them individually, interchangeably, sequentially, or simultaneously,
as well as being required to combat them. In many respects, the future
face of war is reflected in the course of armed conflict in Lebanon
since the early 1970s. Warfare in that country has continued on all
three levels- conventional war, guerrilla warfare, and terrorism. It
involves regular armies, guerrillas, private militias, and terrorist
gunmen, some of whom are openly assisted or covertly sponsored by foreign
states, by political or religious factions, and even by other terrorist
Warfare in the future may be less destructive than that in the first
half of the twentieth century, but also less coherent. Warfare will
cease to be finite. The distinction between war and peace will dissolve.
Nominal peace is likely to be filled with continuing confrontations
Armed conflict will not be confined by national frontiers. Local belligerents
will mobilize foreign patrons. Terrorists will attack foreign targets
both at home and abroad. The United States will be compelled to maintain
capabilities for defending against and, with the exception of terrorism,
waging all three modes of armed conflict.
PROBLEMS OF PHYSICAL PROTECTION
On the preventive side, the United States needs to devote more
attention to the physical security of its personnel, facilities, and
weapons, as well as to improve the reporting and analysis of information
on terrorist threats and actions. Physical protection against terrorism,
however, poses a number of problems.
First, terrorist groups are hard to predict, hard to penetrate. It is
mainly a matter of human intelligence. There is a high noise level of
threats, few of which materialize, few of which can be ignored. The
U.S. Marines in Lebanon had received over a hundred bomb threats or
warnings of possible terrorist bombings prior to the destruction of
the Marine Headquarters.
Moreover, there is a basic asymmetry. Terrorists can attack anything,
anywhere, anytime. Governments cannot protect everything, everywhere,
all the time. It is a certainty that terrorists will attack the least
defended target. It is a virtual certainty that there will always be
a vulnerable target.
A continuing campaign against the American presence in Lebanon could
include further attacks on Marine outposts in Beirut, American naval
vessels off the coast of Lebanon, or American military or civilian targets
elsewhere in the Mediterranean or Middle East.
Physical protection against every conceivable kind of terrorist attack
would become enormously costly, in both manpower and money. The U.S.
Department of State currently spends 15 percent of its budget on security.
Over 2,000 man-years are devoted annually to the protection of U.S.
diplomats abroad, at a cost of $200 million. Allocations for security
are determined not by the strength of the opponent but by the number
of targets to be protected against even a comparatively weak adversary.
At a certain point, the requirements of physical protection can not
only divert manpower from the primary mission, but can render those
defended incapable of performing their primary mission. Embassies can
be turned into fortresses, but with what effect on diplomacy? The Marine
Headquarters and-outposts in Beirut could be surrounded with concrete,
cyclone fences, barbed wire, walls, tank traps, and culverts-all of
which contribute to security. But would not such measures also impede
the Marines in the performance of their mission?
This raises the issue of presence. Does presence require that the Marines
man outposts, patrol lines, be seen with the Lebanese forces? Or is
the mission of presence satisfied by merely being in Lebanon, albeit
as medieval crusaders barricaded in castles? If presence means the former,
then exposure to terrorist attack is unavoidable. If physical security
is paramount, we end up with the latter.
That raises the separate, but related issue of mission. As we move away
from traditional concepts of warfare, missions may lose definition.
Blurry missions may be inescapably characteristic of contemporary conflict,
although not in all cases. For example, Grenada was a conventional application
of military power with a clearly defined objective and mission. The
perceived requirement of propaganda abroad and domestic constraints
such as the War Powers Act encourage vagueness when it comes to defining
the mission. It is incumbent upon military leadership to seek from civilian
leaders as clear a definition as circumstances permit. And it is incumbent
upon political leaders to provide it. Without clearly defined missions,
commanders face uncertainty in the deployment, operations, rules of
engagement, and protection of American forces abroad. Political constraints
imposed by ourselves and by our allies may further complicate the commanders'
task, limiting intelligence and lowering defenses.
TYPES OF MILITARY RESPONSE TO TERRORISM
If more governments begin not only to support terrorist tactics
but also to use them openly, and the international community fails to
impose effective sanctions, military force may become the only means
of combatting terrorism. Terrorist threats or actions conceivably could
involve U.S. armed forces in several kinds of military operations.
Preemptive operations. Under extraordinary circumstances, U.S.
armed forces could be called upon to conduct a preemptive operation.
Credible intelligence that terrorists in some country, probably with
government complicity, had acquired nuclear material or were clandestinely
fabricating a nuclear device or other weapons of mass destruction might
trigger a preemptive response. Fear that American citizens were in danger
of being made hostages also could lead to a preemptive move, ranging
from evacuation in a hostile environment to invasion.
Search and recovery operations. The successful theft of a nuclear
weapon or nuclear material or the crash of a military aircraft carrying
sensitive cargo in a hostile country where it might fall into the hands
of terrorists could involve V.S. armed forces in search and recovery
Rescue operations. Governments have increasingly responded with
force to hostage situations and have developed specially trained units
to carry out armed rescues. Armed rescues are last resort, long-shot
measures. The risk of failure is high, especially in attempts on foreign
territory, and the danger for the hostages is great. That danger may
be even greater now that terrorists have come to expect such attempts.
Armed rescue attempts would be appropriate when a local government could
not carry out its international obligations because of domestic political
strife; when a local government refused to carry out those obligations,
allying itself with the terrorists; or when a local government invited
foreign forces to carry out the assault. These conditions rarely occur.
Except in Iran, the United States probably could not have used force
in episodes in which U.S. diplomats were held hostage.
Terrorists may have come to avoid seizing hostages in European and other
countries where they feel vulnerable to assault, but they still might
feel secure in certain Third World capitols. This suggests that rescue
operations are more likely to take place in distant, probably hostile
Only five governments have attempted armed rescues abroad: Israel at
Entebbe, Germany at Mogadishu, Egypt at Larnaca, the United States in
Iran, and Indonesia at Bangkok. The attempts at Entebbe, Mogadishu,
and Bangkok succeeded. At Larnaca, Egyptian commandos ended up in a
firefight with Cypriot forces. And the United States failed in Iran.
It should also be noted that the Mogadishu and Bangkok rescues were
carried out in a permissive environment; of the three attempts in non-permissive
environments, only the first, the raid on Entebbe, succeeded.
Despite the risks of failure and the danger to hostages, armed rescues
may become necessary when negotiations fail and terrorists ready to
kill. If sieges grow longer because governments resist the demands of
hostage-takers, pressures to make armed rescue attempts will increase
Retaliatory or punitive operations. The United States has few
opportunities to engage terrorists directly. Here again we confront
an asymmetry--an asymmetry of vulnerability. Terrorist groups field
no regular armies. They seldom hold territory. They have no populations
to protect. They have no regular economy. In sum, they provide few lucrative
targets for conventional military attack. We are compelled to take an
indirect approach. For the most part, any retaliatory or punitive operations
would be aimed at modifying the behavior of a government that had used
terrorist tactics, employed or directly supported terrorist groups,
or permitted terrorists to operate from its territory.
Retaliatory operations might be considered if the United States had
incontrovertible evidence that agents in the employ of a government
had carried out a terrorist attack, that a government had instigated
a terrorist attack or permitted one to occur through willful negligence,
or that a government was able to bring the perpetrators to justice but
refused to do so. Retaliatory or punitive operations also might be aimed
at subnational groups in cases where national authority had broken down
Retaliatory operations might take several forms. We can rule out terrorist-type
actions such as campaigns of assassination aimed at known or suspected
leaders or members of terrorist groups. In addition to moral and political
objections, these are not appropriate actions to be carried out by armed
operations might include the following:
show of force or a demonstration. A show of force might range
from the massing of military might, to supersonic low-altitude overflights
designed to rattle windows and nerves, to demonstration bombings in
close-by but unpopulated areas. A show of force constitutes a warning
that further terrorist activity will bring real destruction.
targeting. A selective attack would constitute the next step up.
A specific military target or support facility would be destroyed
as a penalty and a deterrent to continued support of terrorist activity.
attacks. These would include attacks on previously identified
terrorist training camps or strongholds whether or not their activities
were related to the specific terrorist attack that provoked the retaliation.
In a lateral attack, one views international terrorism as a single
adversary culpable in a general way for any specific terrorist attack.
A lateral attack is, therefore, a counterblow to terrorism in general.
of dissidents. Many of the countries actively supporting terrorists
have armed dissidents within their own territory. In such cases, retaliatory
operations might include providing various kinds of support--intelligence,
financing, weapons--for domestic foes. One danger in this approach
is that the dissidents may utilize American support to attack civilian
targets, thus indirectly involving the United States in a terrorist
Military operations. There may be extreme circumstances in which
support for terrorism will constitute an act of war so heinous that
major military operations are necessary. These may range from a naval
blockade to invasion.
and South Africa have regularly responded with military force to terrorist
or guerrilla attacks. Both countries have employed the entire range
of responses described. Their situations are similar in several other
respects. Both countries face continuing guerrilla or terrorist campaigns.
Both countries feel their survival is at stake. In both cases, terrorists
and guerrillas find asylum and receive material from hostile neighbors
on the two countries' borders. Neither Israel nor South Africa feels
that it has much to lose with regard to world opinion. Their circumstances
are quite different from that of the United States. The United States
faces occasional terrorist attacks, mostly directed against American
citizens abroad and carried out by diverse terrorist groups. National
survival is not at stake. World opinion looms larger.
Few occasions warrant military response. As mentioned previously, Americans
figure prominently among the targets of terrorists. A total of 847 incidents
in the Rand chronology of international terrorism were directed against
Americans, but few of these would have warranted a military response.
Between April and September 1970, Palestinian terrorists in Jordan,
principally the PFLP, carried out a number of attacks against U.S. diplomatic,
military, and civilian personnel. The Jordanian government was powerless
to prevent the repeated attacks and at the time may not have been particularly
zealous in tracking down the perpetrators. What the United States might
have done to retaliate is not clear, but the ineffectual action of the
Jordanian authorities coupled with the repetition of these assaults
may have merited some action against the PFLP or the PL0 hierarchy for
failing to stop the attacks.
The multiple hijacking in September 1970 in which PFLP terrorists assembled
over 300 hostages from several hijacked airliners the terrorists forced
to land at Dawson Field in Jordan might have called for a rescue attempt
if the West European governments had not agreed to release prisoners
as demanded by the hijackers. Indeed, the use of the U.S. 82nd Airborne
Division in a rescue operation was discussed by officials in Washington.
As it turned out, the hostages were all released and the incident provoked
a civil war between King Hussein's forces and the Palestinians, leading
ultimately to the expulsion of the latter from Jordan.
Rescue operations might have been contemplated in a few of the other
early hijackings. But no embassy seizure involving American nationals,
except for that in Teheran in November 1979, would have justified a
U.S. rescue attempt. Local authorities in the countries where such incidents
occurred were willing and equally qualified to deal with the episodes
and probably would have resisted any violation of their sovereignty.
No other incidents have justified preemptive military operations, unless
one considers the evacuation of endangered Americans from Grenada as
a form of preemptive rescue operation.
In addition to the Palestinian terrorist campaign, several incidents
conceivably might have justified some form of retaliatory response:
the 1973 murder of the American diplomats held hostage in Khartoum by
Black September terrorists known to be under PLO control; the 1973 Palestinian
attack on a Pan American airliner at the Rome airport in which 32 people
died; the 1974 bombing of a TWA airliner that resulted in 88 deaths;
the 1976 assassination of the American ambassador in Lebanon; the attempted
assassination of an American official in Paris in 1981 and the successful
assassination of another in 1982, reportedly by terrorists operating
on Libya's behalf; and the 1983 bombings of the American embassy and
U.S. Marine Headquarters in Beirut, allegedly with Syrian or Iranian
complicity. Retaliation certainly would have been considered if gunmen
sent by Libya had actually attempted to assassinate President Reagan
in 1981. Any sort of terrorist campaign in the United States traced
to Libya, Syria, Cuba, North Korea, or any other foreign government
also would invite U.S. retaliation.
The list of incidents in which a military response might have been appropriate
is not a long one, perhaps a dozen incidents during a 15-year period--at
the most, three or four rescues and a handful of incidents that might
have called for retaliation. These involved a few hostile countries
in the Third World, primarily the Middle East, all known sponsors of
basis of this quick review, it appears that there are few terrorist
actions to which any sort of military response would be warranted. Those
few are likely to have the following characteristics:
will probably involve a handful of hostile countries in the Third
World. The United States is not likely to engage in preemptive, rescue,
or retaliatory operations in the territory of Western allies or in
the Soviet bloc. That means, however, that the United States is likely
to have military superiority in any counterterrorist military operation.
evidence of state sponsorship, which must exist to justify retaliatory
operations, will always be murky.
public support for retaliatory operations is likely to be ephemeral.
An outraged public demands retribution, but if a military response
results in further U.S. casualties, involves the United States in
expanded military activities, or produces little effect, the public
will oppose it. National survival is not at stake. There is little
consensus in the United States on the use of military force or U.S.
policy in the Third World.
A military response is not likely to deter future terrorist activity.
Israel's frequent resort to reprisal attacks, for example, did not end
the terrorist campaign against that country, although the 1982 invasion
of Lebanon did disperse the PLO and reduce the number of terrorist attacks
Security against terrorist attacks must be a factor in planning
any military operation. Situations such as U.S. involvement in Lebanon
and in Central America, the invasion of Grenada, and the deployment
of missiles in Europe are all likely to provoke terrorist actions against
Americans there or elsewhere.
Emphasizing a point made earlier, missions need to be precisely defined.
The collection and analysis of intelligence about terrorism can and
should be improved in order to better anticipate terrorist attacks,
accurately assign culpability for those attacks, and develop appropriate
countermeasures and responses. It takes years to develop this kind of
intelligence. Meanwhile, in situations like that in Lebanon, it may
be useful to consider augmenting U.S. forces with area experts. They
could be drawn from the military services, civilian government agencies,
the reserves, or civilian institutions.
Military options in response to terrorism are few. Constraints are inevitable,
and in some cases, U.S. interests are best served by not responding
at all. Terrorist attacks cannot be permitted to determine U.S. foreign
policy, directly or indirectly. We have to try to invent additional
low-cost responses that keep terrorist attacks from forcing the United
States to escalate militarily, which in some cases may be exactly what
terrorists hope to achieve. These responses may involve special or conventional
Regular military forces, as presently organized and trained, may not
be adequately prepared to operate in terrorist environments. The armed
forces will have to learn to do this, as they had to learn to operate
in jungle environments. In the meantime, it may be useful to consider
augmenting regular forces in high-risk areas with units whose training
may make them better prepared to anticipate and deal with terrorist
It would be a mistake, however, to consign the problems of terrorism
exclusively to special forces. Even in a world of growing terrorism,
specialized antiterrorist units with no other mission may be underemployed,
and the remainder of the armed forces will be left without adequate
preparation. The entire armed forces must be able to confront diverse
modes of conflict, including terrorism.
SUMMARY OF THE LONG COMMISSION REPORT
ON THE BEIRUT BOMBING
While acknowledging the unique and difficult mission of the Marines
in Lebanon, the Commission blamed the military chain of command for
the disaster. Blame began with the Commander of U.S. Forces in Europe
and terminated with the commanders of the Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU)
and the Battalion Landing Team (BLT). The Commission found differences
in mission interpretation (at all levels of command) which contributed
to the incident, but it also found that circumstances beyond the control
of commanders influenced their judgments.
A reported shortcoming was the lack of specific and timely intelligence
information. This led the Commission to recommend that the Secretary
of Defense form an all-source fusion center for the collation of information
found in similar crisis-like situations. Also, the Commission called
for improved Human Intelligence (HUMINT) programs, not only in Lebanon,
but in other areas susceptible to future conflict development.
Preattack security was found to be neither commensurate with the threat
level nor sufficient to preclude the disaster. The MAU and BLT commanders
were faulted for the insufficient preattack security, and the Commission
recommended that the Secretary of Defense take appropriate administrative
or disciplinary action against them.
The Commission found little to criticize in casualty handling procedures.
Some administrative/logistic procedural shortcomings were pointed out,
but the heroic rescue actions of on-scene survivors received laudatory
The report stated that the bombing was a terrorist act tantamount to
an act of war which was carried out by a state sponsored entity. Such
terrorism is seen as an increasingly severe threat for which the U.S.
military must be prepared. The Commission recommended that the Secretary
of Defense direct the development of doctrine, planning, organization,
force structure, education, and training necessary for this defense.
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