Skip to comments.The FReeper Foxhole Remembers The Raid on Libya (4/14/1986) - Apr. 14th, 2003
Posted on 04/14/2003 5:35:16 AM PDT by SAMWolf
are acknowledged, affirmed and commemorated.
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Tensions between the Libya and the United States mounted after the hijacking of a TWA airliner at Beirut in July 1985 and bombing attacks at American airline counters at Rome and Vienna in December of that year. Qadhafi was implicated in these actions through his patronage of the alleged perpetrator, the Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal. The Libyans also began installing batteries of SA-5 missiles acquired from the Soviet Union in late 1985, along with associated radar, to augment their air defense capabilities. United States naval vessels continued to challenge Qadhafi's claim to the Gulf of Sidra, periodically crossing the line of Libyan territorial claim, which he came to refer to as the "line of death."
The April 1986 bombing of a Berlin discotheque frequented by American servicemen helped convince President Reagan that it was time for the US to take action against Libyansponsored terrorism. (Photo via Denis Giangreco
At the same time, a French-built Combattante-class missile attack craft was destroyed when it approached United States Navy ships protecting the aircraft carriers. The Libyan vessel was hit by two Harpoon missiles launched from an A-7 Corsair aircraft. The most serious loss for the Libyans was one of the eight Sovietsupplied Nanuchka-class missile corvettes in an attack by two A-6s shortly after midnight on March 26. A total of five attacks was carried out on Libyan ships.
Ten days later, on April 5, 1986, a bomb exploded in a discotheque in Berlin frequented by United States service personnel. Of the 200 injured, 63 were American soldiers; one soldier and one civilian were killed.
On the late evening of 15 April and early morning of 16 April 1986, under the code name El Dorado Canyon, the United States launched a series of military air strikes against ground targets inside Libya. The timing of the attack was such that while some of the strike aircraft were still in the air, President Reagan was able to address the US public and much of the world. He emphasized that this action was a matter of US self defense against Libyas state-sponsored terrorism. In part, he stated, "Self defense is not only our right, it is our duty. It is the purpose behind the mission...a mission fully consistent with Article 51 of the U.N. Charter."
The use of force was specifically prompted by what the President claimed was "irrefutable proof" that Libya had directed the terrorist bombing of a West Berlin discotheque nine days earlier which had killed one American and injured 200 others. The impetus for the Presidents decision to authorize the raid was the American intelligence interception of a message from Gadaffi ordering an attack on Americans "to cause maximum and indiscriminate casualties." Another communications source, an intercepted Libyan message outlined the attack being planned in West Berlin.
With only the UK offering use of its bases, US aircraft faced a long flight to Libya. The round trip required eight to 12 in-flight refuelings for each airplane-this one, from Karma Flight, armed with 2,000-pound laser-guided bombs. (Photo via Jim Rotramel)
The raid was designed to hit directly at the heart of Gaddafis ability to export terrorism with the belief that such a preemptive strike would provide him "incentives and reasons to alter his criminal behavior." The final targets of the raid were selected at the National Security Council level "within the circle of the Presidents advisors." Ultimately, five targets were selected:
All except one of these targets were chosen because of their direct connection to terrorist activity. The single exception was the Benina military airfield which based Libyan fighter aircraft. This target was hit to preempt Libyan interceptors from taking off and attacking the incoming US bombers. It should also be noted that the French Embassy in Tripoli and several of the neighboring residential buildings also were bombed inadvertently during the raid; they were not targeted.
Puffy and Lujac attack elements, armed with Mk 82 Snakeye parachute-retarded 500-pound bombs like these, struck the Tripoli airport. The operation led to F-111 changes that would make the aircraft invaluable in the Gulf War.
Mission planners decided, as part of the effort to attain tactical surprise, to hit all five targets simultaneously. This decision had crucial impact on nearly every aspect of the operation since it meant that the available US Navy resources could not perform the mission unilaterally. The only two types of aircraft in the US inventory capable of conducting a precision night attack were the Navys A-6s and the Air Forces F-111s. The Navy had two aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean at the time planning for the raid: The America and The Coral Sea. Each had ten A-6 aircraft, but these were not the total of 32 aircraft estimated as required to successfully hit all five targets with one raid. The closest F-111s were based in the United Kingdom (UK); and use of these UK based aircraft dramatically affected the scope and complexity of the operation. Planning was even further compounded when the French refused to grant authority to overfly France. This refusal increased the distance of the flight route from Great Britain to Tripoli by about 1300 nautical miles each way, added 6-7 hours of flight time for the pilots and crews, and forced a tremendous amount of additional refueling support from tanker aircraft.
The size of the strike forces final configuration was immense and complex. Approximately 100 aircraft were launched in direct support of the raid:
28 KC-10 and KC-135 tankers
5 EF-111 Raven ECM (Electronic Countermeasure) aircraft
24 FB-111 Strike aircraft (six of these were airborne spares, and returned to base after the initial refueling)
14 A-6E strike aircraft
12 A-7E and F/A-18 Electronic warfare and jamming aircraft which undertook air defense suppression for the mission
Several F-14 Tomcats which took up the long range Combat Air Patrol (CAP) responsibilities
4 E-2C Hawkeye airborne command and control and warning aircraft
In addition to the above, several helicopters were deployed for possible search and rescue operations, and "50-80 more aircraft were airborne in the vicinity of the carriers some 150-200 miles off shore." In fact, the total size of the force was criticized as excessive from various sources. All combined, the whole operation involved (to some degree) "more aircraft and combat ships than Britain employed during its entire campaign in the Falklands."
SR-71 #980 Departs Mildenhall on "El Dorado Canyon" Mission
The 66th Electronic Combat Wing detached the 42nd ECS to the 20th TFW to take part in Eldorado Canyon the raid on Libya. On 14 April 1986, 5 EF-111As and 20 F-111Es took off from RAF Upper Heyford as part of the attack force. They were used as an airborne reserve for the F-111Fs of the 48th TFW, RAF Lakenheath. Three EF-111s (two were spares and turned back) formed up with the 48th's F-111Fs and provided electronic defense during the attack on Tripoli. USAFE initiated the Project Power Hunter intelligence network in December 1987. The wing first tested the Durandal runway-buster bombs during Exercise Red Flag, in January and February 1988.
During the evening of 14 April, 28 Eighth Air Force KC-135s and KC-10s left the Royal Air Force (RAF) bases at Fairford and Mildenhall, England, to meet up with 24 F-111s from RAF Lakenheath. For this mission to Libya, the Eighth Air Force's tankers refueled the strike force four times under conditions of radio silence. On their return, the F-111s needed two more refuelings to get back to England. The mission took 14 hours to cover 5,500 miles nautical miles because France and Spain would not allow the formation to fly over their territory. Eighth Air Force's refueling support made the longest mission ever accomplished by tactical aircraft a success.
The first aircraft to launch were the 28 tankers from Britain followed closely by the F/EF-111s. Four refuelings and several hours later, these planes rounded the tip of Tunisia and were integrated into the Navys airborne armada by an Air Force officer aboard a KC-10 tanker which had been modified to function also as an airborne command coordination center.
Although joint in nature, the actual execution of the strike was operationally and geographically divided between the Navy and Air Force. Navy A-6s were assigned the target in the Benghazi area, and the Air Force F-111s hit the other three targets in the vicinity of Tripoli. This division of responsibility was done largely to simplify and deconflict command and control of the operational aspects of the raid. The modified KC-10 tanker was given charge of the Air Force resources while the carrier America controlled the Navy aircraft. The airborne E-2C Hawkeyes provided early warning, air control vectors, and operations.
The actual combat commenced at 0200 (local Libyan time), lasted less than 12 minutes, and dropped 60 tons of munitions. Resistance outside the immediate area of attack was nonexistent, and Libyan air defense aircraft never launched. One FB-111 strike aircraft was lost during the strike. The entire armada remained in the vicinity for over an hour trying to account for all aircraft.
Although retaliation for the Berlin bombing had been anticipated, Libyan air defenses seemed almost wholly unprepared for the attack. In fact, it was reported that antiaircraft fire had not begun until after the American planes had passed over their targets at Tripoli. It was reported that some Libyan soldiers abandoned their posts in fright and confusion and officers were slow to give orders. Also, Libyans fighters failed to get airborne to challenge the attacking bombers.
On April 14, 1986 at 17:36 Greenwich Mean Time, twenty four F-111Fs of the USAF 48th Tactical Fighter Wing took off from the Royal Air Force base at Lakenheath, England. Twenty eight refueling tankers took to the air from bases at Mildenhall and Fairford, while five EF-111 Ravens equipped with high-tech jamming equipment soared skyward from a fourth base. Operation El Dorado Canyon was underway. The target: Libya. The American aircraft roaring through the English skies that evening were embarked on what would become the longest fighter combat mission in the history of military aviation, and the first major USAF combat mission in more than a decade.
The U.S. and Libya had clashed before -- in 1981, when Gaddafi launched an air strike against provocative American naval maneuvers in the Gulf of Sidra, international waters that Gaddafi claimed for Libya. Two Soviet-built SU-22 fighters were shot down. That same year, U.S. intelligence learned that Libyan hit squads would be dispatched to assassinate Reagan and other government officials. Though some anti-terrorist experts suggested that a covert operation to kill Gaddafi was doable, this was not an alternative available to Reagan. He had promised to adhere to Executive Order No. 12333, issued in 1976 by President Gerald Ford, which banned the government from engaging in the assassination of world leaders.
A Newsweek poll revealed that three out of every four Americans believed the U.S. attacks on Libyan boats and missile batteries were justified, while two-thirds feared that Gaddafi would retaliate. On March 25, Gaddafi ordered his embassies (or "people's bureaus") in East Berlin, Paris, Rome and Madrid to carry out terrorist action against Americans. At a mass rally in Tripoli, Gaddafi declared Libya to be in a state of war with the United States, and the crowd was entertained with the slaughtering of an ox with Reagan's name painted on its side. Less than a week later, 21-year-old Army Sergeant Kenneth Ford of Detroit was slain when a bomb blast ripped through Berlin's La Belle discotheque, a nightclub frequented by American servicemen.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher signed off on the use of British bases in the operation, but Spain and France refused to grant American warplanes overflight permission; this meant the planes would have to fly 2,800 miles to reach their targets, and be refueled five times in the air. Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi spoke for many European leaders when he expressed concern that any American retaliation would simply trigger more terrorist acts in reprisal. But the Reagan administration was determined to act. It felt that someone had to take a stand against worldwide terrorism that had run rampant in the Eighties. Gaddafi and others like him, said the president, had to be given "incentives . . . to alter [their] criminal behavior."
President Reagan made a televised address to the nation later that evening. "I said that we would act . . . to ensure that terrorists have no sanctuary anywhere," he said. "Tonight, we have." Polling showed the American people overwhelmingly approved of the raid, though there were some who concurred with former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski who complained that "we haven't really dealt a blow to terrorism; we've just made ourselves feel good." In Britain, Prime Minister Thatcher was roundly criticized for going against the advice of her cabinet and supporting the American strike. In the House of Commons she stood firm -- like a "lioness in a den of Daniels," said the London Times -- against shouts of disapproval from opposition members. The Iron Lady felt she owed Reagan for U.S. support during the Falklands War, and she knew Gaddafi was giving aid to the IRA.
There were repercussions; three hostages were executed by Arab Revolutionary Cell gunmen in Lebanon, two of them British teachers and the third an American, Peter Kilburn, while William Cokals, a U.S. embassy official, was shot down in the streets of Khartoum, Sudan. For a time there was widespread concern that terrorist revenge attacks would occur on American soil, and experts warned that the U.S. was woefully unprepared to deal with such a contingency. The attacks never came.
| Address to the Nation on the United States Air Strike Against Libya April 14, 1986
My fellow Americans:
At 7 o'clock this evening eastern time air and naval forces of the United States launched a series of strikes against the headquarters, terrorist facilities, and military assets that support Mu`ammar Qadhafi's subversive activities. The attacks were concentrated and carefully targeted to minimize casualties among the Libyan people with whom we have no quarrel. From initial reports, our forces have succeeded in their mission.
Several weeks ago in New Orleans, I warned Colonel Qadhafi we would hold his regime accountable for any new terrorist attacks launched against American citizens. More recently I made it clear we would respond as soon as we determined conclusively who was responsible for such attacks. On April 5th in West Berlin a terrorist bomb exploded in a nightclub frequented by American servicemen. Sergeant Kenneth Ford and a young Turkish woman were killed and 230 others were wounded, among them some 50 American military personnel. This monstrous brutality is but the latest act in Colonel Qadhafi's reign of terror. The evidence is now conclusive that the terrorist bombing of La Belle discotheque was planned and executed under the direct orders of the Libyan regime. On March 25th, more than a week before the attack, orders were sent from Tripoli to the Libyan People's Bureau in East Berlin to conduct a terrorist attack against Americans to cause maximum and indiscriminate casualties. Libya's agents then planted the bomb. On April 4th the People's Bureau alerted Tripoli that the attack would be carried out the following morning. The next day they reported back to Tripoli on the great success of their mission.
Our evidence is direct; it is precise; it is irrefutable. We have solid evidence about other attacks Qadhafi has planned against the United States installations and diplomats and even American tourists. Thanks to close cooperation with our friends, some of these have been prevented. With the help of French authorities, we recently aborted one such attack: a planned massacre, using grenades and small arms, of civilians waiting in line for visas at an American Embassy.
Colonel Qadhafi is not only an enemy of the United States. His record of subversion and aggression against the neighboring States in Africa is well documented and well known. He has ordered the murder of fellow Libyans in countless countries. He has sanctioned acts of terror in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, as well as the Western Hemisphere. Today we have done what we had to do. If necessary, we shall do it again. It gives me no pleasure to say that, and I wish it were otherwise. Before Qadhafi seized power in 1969, the people of Libya had been friends of the United States. And I'm sure that today most Libyans are ashamed and disgusted that this man has made their country a synonym for barbarism around the world. The Libyan people are a decent people caught in the grip of a tyrant.
To our friends and allies in Europe who cooperated in today's mission, I would only say you have the permanent gratitude of the American people. Europeans who remember history understand better than most that there is no security, no safety, in the appeasement of evil. It must be the core of Western policy that there be no sanctuary for terror. And to sustain such a policy, free men and free nations must unite and work together. Sometimes it is said that by imposing sanctions against Colonel Qadhafi or by striking at his terrorist installations we only magnify the man's importance, that the proper way to deal with him is to ignore him. I do not agree.
Long before I came into this office, Colonel Qadhafi had engaged in acts of international terror, acts that put him outside the company of civilized men. For years, however, he suffered no economic or political or military sanction; and the atrocities mounted in number, as did the innocent dead and wounded. And for us to ignore by inaction the slaughter of American civilians and American soldiers, whether in nightclubs or airline terminals, is simply not in the American tradition. When our citizens are abused or attacked anywhere in the world on the direct orders of a hostile regime, we will respond so long as I'm in this Oval Office. Self-defense is not only our right, it is our duty. It is the purpose behind the mission undertaken tonight, a mission fully consistent with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.
We believe that this preemptive action against his terrorist installations will not only diminish Colonel Qadhafi's capacity to export terror, it will provide him with incentives and reasons to alter his criminal behavior. I have no illusion that tonight's action will ring down the curtain on Qadhafi's reign of terror. But this mission, violent though it was, can bring closer a safer and more secure world for decent men and women. We will persevere. This afternoon we consulted with the leaders of Congress regarding what we were about to do and why. Tonight I salute the skill and professionalism of the men and women of our Armed Forces who carried out this mission. It's an honor to be your Commander in Chief.
We Americans are slow to anger. We always seek peaceful avenues before resorting to the use of force -- and we did. We tried quiet diplomacy, public condemnation, economic sanctions, and demonstrations of military force. None succeeded. Despite our repeated warnings, Qadhafi continued his reckless policy of intimidation, his relentless pursuit of terror. He counted on America to be passive. He counted wrong. I warned that there should be no place on Earth where terrorists can rest and train and practice their deadly skills. I meant it. I said that we would act with others, if possible, and alone if necessary to ensure that terrorists have no sanctuary anywhere. Tonight, we have.
Thank you, and God bless you.
-- President Ronald Reagan
One look at this picture and one can see that France has not been contributing towards the War on Terrorism since well before 1986. They harbored "Carlos the Jackal" and other terrorists in their country along with making deals with terrorist factions in exchange for "safe passage" and protection of French intrests around the world.
The French had no intention to support the Coalition in Afghanistan, Iraq or beyond. They are a nation that coddles theives, bandits, brutes, thugs, assassins, murders, strong-men, dictators, and despots from around the world because it is their way of providing themselves protection from the very same vermin.
Rather than despising, arresting and prosecuting the global criminal and terrorist element, they have, in essence, accepted and embraced the very same as a means for their own national survival.
PS - If you don't believe me, I hear "Baby Doc" Duvalier is doing mighty fine on the French Riviera and still receives house guests from the likes of President Mugabe...
It should also be noted that the French Embassy in Tripoli and several of the neighboring residential buildings also were bombed inadvertently during the raid
Hmmm, looks like the "Powell Doctrine" predates Powell's leadership of the Joint Chiefs. Perhaps it should be renamed the "Reagan Doctrine."
But seriously, the actions of doctrinal importance that come from this are the fact that the disco was bombed on the 5th of April, and before tax day had even come, we had carried out a massive mission to spank the aggressor.
We should have behaved this way towards Saddam in the 90's.
Wow...you compare that part of Reagan's Libya attack speech to what Bush is having to do now, and you definitely see the similarities...
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