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UPI Archives
Tuesday, April 15, 1986

Reagan: Airstrike against Libya victory against terrorism
By HELEN THOMAS, UPI White House Reporter

WASHINGTON, April 15, 1986 (UPI) -- The blistering U.S. airstrike against Libya was a victory in the global battle against terrorism, President Reagan said Tuesday, warning the United States is ready to repeat its message ''in the only language Khadafy seems to understand.''

As Reagan pledged he will not relent in his campaign to ''eradicate the scourge of terror in the modern world,'' reports from the Libyan capital of Tripoli said that Moammar Khadafy's 15-month-old adopted daughter was killed in the bombing and two of the Libyan leaders's sons were seriously hurt.

After night fell in Tripoli Tuesday, the thud of anti-aircraft guns could be heard, arousing fears another raid was under way, but Pentagon spokesmen flatly denied another U.S. assault was taking place. White House spokesman Larry Speakes also told reporters that the military operations had concluded.

Reagan, speaking to a business group, noted that two American airmen are missing -- their F-111 bomber failed to get back to its base in Britain after Monday night's surprise attack that the Pentagon called ''Operation Eldorado Canyon.''

In the first direct diplomatic fallout from the raid, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev canceled a planned meeting between Secretary of State George Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze because of the ''criminal'' attack on Libya.

The two diplomats had planned to review prospects for a U.S.-Soviet summit this year in Washington and Speakes called the Soviet decision to abort the meeting a mistake.

At the White House, Speakes said the attack was but the first installment of the ''heavy price'' Khadafy will have to pay unless he gives up his support of terrorists and was designed to ''deter future terrorist attacks.''

Monday's assault, hitting suspected ''terrorist-related'' targets near Tripoli and the eastern port city of Benghazi, was intended ''to send a clear message that we will no longer tolerate the deaths of Americans and others,'' Speakes said. ''We are confident this message was heard and understood.''

Reagan said in a Monday night address to the nation that the raid was in direct response to the bombing of a Berlin nightclub earlier this month and to counter Khadafy's wideranging plans for more attacks on Americans around the world.

The president, in remarks Tuesday to the American Business Council, said, ''We spoke to the outlaw Libyan regime in the only language that Khadafy seems to understand. Yesterday, the United States won but a single engagement in a long battle against terrorism.''

Reiterating his Monday night vow the United States will strike Libya again if Khadafy does not ends his campaign of subversion and terror, Reagan said:

''In order for evil to succeed it's only necessary that good men do nothing. Doing nothing is not America's policy.

''We would prefer not to have to repeat the events of last night. The choice is theirs.''

Reagan warned Khadafy ''not to understimate the capacity or the legitimate anger of a free people.''

There were some signs of increased security in Washington and at federal buildings around the country, and U.S. diplomatic outposts around the world were put on a heightened state of alert. The Federal Aviation Administration ordered American airlines flying into foreign airports to take special security measures and advised U.S. aiports to be ''extra vigilant.''

Last week Khadafy warned, ''If there is an American attack, American security will be threatened in American cities and American targets all over the world.''

Speakes, however, did not appear particularly concerned by Khadafy's threats, saying, ''He's been blustering like that for years.''

Reports from Tripoli said there were heavy civilian casualties, including Khadafy's daughter, Hana, who died when U.S. bombs smashed into the Azizzia compound just outside Tripoli, which the colonel uses as a headquarters. Two of Khadafy's young sons also were injured.

Reporters taken on a tour three hours after the bombing were shown the destruction in a residential area near the French embassy, which was badly damaged in the raid.

The sharp U.S. attack, described by Reagan as an act of self-defense to pre-empt planned Libyan assaults on Americans and U.S. installations around the world, was the first use of American military might in support of president's avowed policy of ''swift and effective retribution'' for terrorism.

Reagan, in his Oval Office speech Monday, said there is clear evidence, gleaned from intercepted Libyan communications, that Khadafy's government ordered the May 5 West Belin bombing that killed two people, including one American soldier, and injured more than 200.

Speakes, reading a statement to reporters 14 hours after the 20-minute air raid that began about 7 p.m. EST Monday, said the message to Khadafy was simple: ''Terrorism cannot be supported without incurring a heavy price.''

Despite the apparent end of U.S. activity, a Coast Guard spokesman said two missiles of unknown origin splashed into the Mediterranean near the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, where the United States maintains a radio navigation facility. There were reports the missiles, which the spokesman said caused neither damage nor casualties, had been fired by a Libyan patrol boat.

Domestic reaction to the strike was largely supportive of Reagan. Speakes said calls to the White House were about 80 percent in favor of the attack and on Capitol Hill lawmakers, with few exceptions, backed the president's decision.

''Khadafy is an international outlaw with blood on his hands and he deserves whatever punishment he gets,'' Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, said. But he added ''only time will tell'' whether the raid ''will deter future terrorism by Libya or whether it will increase terrorism.''

In Brussels, Belgian Foreign Minister Leo Tindemans said Libyan authorities called the Belgian Embassy in Tripoli Monday night to ask for diplomatic help in ending American military action.

He said the Libyan request was promptly transmitted to Washington but was denied. Belgium has been handling U.S. interests in Libya since American diplomatic links with Libya were severed in August 1981.

A total of 33 American planes were involved in the attack, with 18 F-111 bombers flying from Britain to hit Tripoli and 15 Navy jets from carriers in the Mediterranean striking targets around Benghazi on the Gulf of Sidra.

Only 16 of the bombers made it back to their British base, one suffering mechanical troubles and being forced to land in Spain, another vanishing. All the Navy A-6s returned to their carriers.

An extensive air and sea search was conducted for the missing $30 million plane, which -- like all the F-111s -- was forced to fly a circuitous route to Libya because France refused to allow American planes to cross its airspace.

The pilot of the missing plane was Capt. Fernando Ribas-Dominici, 33, of Puerto Rico, and the weapons officer was Capt. Paul Lorence, 31, of San Francisco, the Air Force said.

The French refusal underlined the problem Reagan has had in getting allied support for his anti-Khadafy campaign. In his speech Monday, Reagan thanked -- without naming them -- European nations that backed the air raid.

Speakes, when asked Tuesday about allied backing, also declined to name the European states other than Britian that supported the assault, but said some others had approved.

The spokesman, citing Egypt as an example, also contended some Arab states are privately supporting the U.S. campaing against Khadafy but cannot do so publicly.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher gave permission for the U.S. jets to be flown from bases in Britain -- which was rocked in 1984 when a policewoman was shot and killed by a gunman inside the Libya diplomatic office in London.

The French denial of overflight rights meant the bombers had to fly around the Iberian penninsula, adding about 1,200 miles to their route and requiring inflight refueling.

U.S. officials did not ask Spain for overflight clearance because of the recent political battle there over continued participation in NATO.

The Pentagon said the American warplanes struck at five separate assigned targets, three in the Tripoli area and two in the Benghazi region.

The targets near Tripoli were two suspected terrorist command posts - including a headquarters used by Khadafy -- and military facilities at the nearby airport. The targets near Benghazi were suspected terrorist bases.

Shultz, in an NBC-TV interview Tuesday, denied the air strikes were designed to ''go after Khadafy'' although, ''We feel he is a ruler better out of his country.''

Copyright 2007 by United Press International.