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U.S. Retaliates, Bombs Libya : Terror-Related Sites Hit in Response to Berlin Blast : If Necessary, We Will Do It Again: Reagan

April 15, 1986|JACK NELSON and ELEANOR CLIFT | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Waves of U.S. warplanes, retaliating for the April 5 terrorist bombing that claimed the life of an American serviceman in West Berlin, struck targets in Libya early today as President Reagan declared that "when our citizens are abused or attacked, anywhere in the world, . . . we will respond so long as I am in this Oval Office."

"Today we have done what we had to do," Reagan said in a brief televised address to the nation Monday night. "If necessary, we will do it again."

F-111 fighter-bombers from three U.S. Air Force bases in Britain, along with A-6 and A-7 light bombers from two Navy aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean, hit two military airfields, two barracks and a military training area in Libya. White House spokesman Larry Speakes said all five facilities were used by terrorists.

Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger told a press conference that one of the F-111s remained unaccounted for, its fate unknown. The air strikes, which began about 2 a.m. today in Libya (4 p.m. Monday PST), drew anti-aircraft fire from Libyan defenders, and Libyan radio claimed that three of the attacking planes had been downed.

Weinberger said the U.S. planes knocked out the lights and communications gear at a military airfield near Benghazi. Beyond that, neither Weinberger nor Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who also attended the press conference, estimated the damage inflicted on the targets.

The airfields, barracks and training area were around the thickly populated cities of Tripoli and Benghazi. But Weinberger described all of them as "good night targets" that offered clear outlines to the attacking planes.

"Every effort was made to avoid civilian casualties and limit collateral damage," Speakes said.

French Embassy Hit

The French Foreign Ministry, however, reported that the French Embassy in Tripoli was hit, but it said there were no injuries.

The 18 F-111s involved in the strike took off from their bases in England, flew southwest over the English Channel, down the Atlantic coast and over the Strait of Gibraltar toward the three targets around the Libyan capital of Tripoli. Weinberger said that the roundabout route, which required several aerial refuelings, was taken because France denied permission for U.S. planes to fly over its territory.

Fifteen attack bombers, the A-6s and A-7s, were launched from the two carriers, the America and the Coral Sea. They struck the airfield and military barracks around Benghazi. The carriers had taken up positions in the Mediterranean Sea just beyond what Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi has proclaimed the "line of death" marking the northern boundary of the Gulf of Sidra.

In addition, a Defense Department official who asked not to be identified said that F-14s and F-18s--the Navy's most sophisticated interceptor fighters--and planes equipped with electronic radar-jamming and surveillance gear were sent aloft from the carriers as a protective shield for the bombers.

As the warplanes attacked, U.S. officials told the senior Soviet diplomat in Washington of the raids. Shultz said that the Soviet charge d'affaires "was told of our evidence, and he was told this action was directed against terrorists and was in no way directed against the Soviet Union."

Reagan, in justifying the attack, declared that evidence of Kadafi's responsibility for the West Berlin incident, in which a Turkish woman was also killed and more than 200 people were injured, "is direct, it is precise, it is irrefutable."

"Despite our repeated warnings, Kadafi continued his reckless policy of intimidation, his relentless pursuit of terror," Reagan said. "He counted on America to be passive. He counted wrong."

Presidential spokesman Larry Speakes told a hurriedly called press briefing Monday evening: "In light of this reprehensible act of violence and clear evidence that Libya is planning future attacks, the United States has chosen to exercise its right of self-defense. It is our hope this action will preempt and discourage Libyan attacks against innocent civilians in the future."

Cooperation With Allies

Reagan said that "close cooperation" with allies had prevented Libya from carrying out several other terrorist attacks against civilians. He said French authorities had helped stop "a planned massacre of people waiting in line" for visas at the American Embassy in Paris.

Weinberger said the targets in or near Tripoli included the Aziziya Barracks, which he described as a command and control headquarters for Libyan terrorist operations; the port of Sidi Bilal, described as a training base for Libyan commandos, and the Tripoli military airport, which Weinberger said is used "to transport military and subversive material around the world."

In or near Benghazi at the other end of the Gulf of Sidra, he said, U.S. planes struck the Jamahiriya Barracks, which he called an alternate command post, and the Baninah Air Base, which the attackers struck to put Libya's air defenses out of commission during the raid.

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