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Rumsfeld Remembers Lessons of Marine Barracks Bombing

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 23, 2003 - Twenty years ago, a suicide bomber drove a truck into the Marine Barracks at the Beirut International Airport in Lebanon. When the explosion cleared, 241 Marines and sailors were dead.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the lessons learned from that horrific experience still have resonance today. Rumsfeld spoke during a press briefing at the Pentagon today.

After the attack in 1983, Rumsfeld became President Reagan's special envoy to the Middle East. As such, he saw the aftermath of the attack and the nature of the terrorists that perpetrated the attack.

"It was an enormously violent event," Rumsfeld said. He said the immediate reaction was to put up cement barricades around buildings housing American troops to preclude another attack.

"The next thing was that terrorists started using rocket- propelled grenades and lobbing them over those barricades," he said. "The barricades are fine for trucks; they are not so fine for airborne missiles."

As a reaction to that, the embassies along the Corniche in downtown Beirut put up wire mesh so that "when the rocket- propelled grenades hit the mesh, they'd bounce off," he said.

That worked, so the terrorists started going after "softer" targets - men and women going to and from work. "The point is that terrorists go to school on you, and they adjust their tactics," he said.

They still do. Terrorists can attack at any time, at any place, using any technique, and "free people are not able to defend at every place, at every moment of the day or night, against every conceivable type of technique," Rumsfeld told reporters.

The secretary said the only way to defeat the terrorists, is to take the war to them. He said free people must go after terrorists where they live and hide, and free nations must go after terrorist financiers and those who harbor and assist terrorists.

The United States must go after the root causes of terrorism, he said, and must stop people from wanting to join terrorist organizations. "That's the president's policy, and it's the correct policy," Rumsfeld said.

The secretary said the people of the Defense Department look at successful terrorist attacks -- against the Marine barracks, the USS Cole and the dorm in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, for example -- and each attack reinforces the idea that free people cannot "hunker down and find a way to hide and defend against what's happening in this world."