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Reagan Calls Raid a Victory, Expects Struggle to Continue : The Choice Is Up to Libya, He Declares

April 16, 1986|NORMAN KEMPSTER | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Reagan declared Tuesday that the U.S. air raid on Libya was a victory over terrorism but made it clear that he does not expect the attack to be the last use of military force against Col. Moammar Kadafi's regime.

"The United States won but a single engagement in the long battle against terrorism," Reagan told a group of business leaders at the White House. "We will not end that struggle until the free and decent people of this planet unite to eradicate the scourge of terror from the modern world."

Although the State Department denied reports on Libyan radio of new bombing strikes Tuesday, the President's remarks left no doubt that Washington intends to attack repeatedly unless Kadafi ends his support for terrorist attacks on American citizens and facilities. And U.S. officials acknowledged that they do not expect Kadafi to give in--at least not yet.

"We would prefer not to have to repeat the events of last night," Reagan said. "What is required is for Libya to end its pursuit of terror for political goals. The choice is theirs."

But he made no secret of what he believes Kadafi will choose.

"We do not underestimate the brutality of this evil man," Reagan said. "Col. Kadafi ought not to underestimate either the capacity or legitimate anger of free people."

Libya apparently wasted no time in retaliating. A patrol boat believed to be Libyan fired two rockets Tuesday at a U.S. Coast Guard facility on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, about 200 miles north of Libya. However, the rockets fell into the water, well short of the target, and did no damage.

White House spokesman Larry Speakes said 31 U.S. Coast Guardsmen were operating long-range navigational equipment on the island and had no weapons other than small, personal arms.

Reminder to Italy

State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb, who confirmed the attack, said, "We will work closely with the Italians in determining how to react to this attack on Italian soil." His comments may have been a subtle attempt to remind the Rome government that Kadafi is a threat to Italian interests.

Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi, in his first reaction to the U.S. air raid, said Washington risked "provoking explosive reactions of fanaticism and criminal suicide acts." His government, like most of Washington's European allies, made no secret of its opposition to the U.S. use of force against Libya.

However, an Administration official, speaking on the condition that he not be identified, laughed off the Lampedusa incident. "As long as the rounds keep falling into the sea, it is hard to get too concerned about it," the official said.

Searching for Plane

Navy ships and planes continued to search the Gulf of Sidra on Tuesday for a lone F-111 fighter-bomber still missing after the lightning strike by U.S. warplanes on two Libyan cities. The Air Force notified the families of the two crewmen that they had been officially listed as missing.

The two were identified as Capt. Fernando Ribas-Dominicci, 33, of Puerto Rico, the pilot of the F-111, and Capt. Paul F. Lorence, 31, of Oakland, the weapons system officer. Their plane had been assigned to the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing at Lakenheath Air Base in England.

According to the Pentagon, U.S. warplanes hit the Aziziya Barracks in Tripoli, where Kadafi makes his home. It was not known if Kadafi was in the barracks at the time of the attack, but Times correspondent Michael Ross reported from Tripoli that the director of Tripoli's Children's Hospital told a press conference that Kadafi's 15-month-old adopted daughter was killed in the raid and that two of his sons, ages 3 and 4 1/2, were injured.

TV Film of Kadafi

Kadafi himself has not been seen in public or heard on the radio since the attacks. However, Libyan television Tuesday night showed film of Kadafi meeting the Soviet ambassador, apparently indicating that he is alive and well.

The U.S. action produced a chorus of criticism from governments around the world, including several U.S. allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

France refused to grant permission to the Air Force F-111s to fly over its territory--the most direct route from their bases in Britain to the targets around Tripoli--forcing the attack planes to fly a circuitous, 3,200-mile route. Flying over France would have cut 1,200 miles off the length of the trip.

Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez said he would have refused permission to cross Spain if he had been asked but was not. Gonzalez said a damaged F-111 was allowed to land at the U.S. naval base at Rota, Spain, only because international air safety regulations require all nations to render assistance to aircraft in distress.

The reaction in the Arab world was almost entirely negative. Even Egypt, which is second only to Israel in the amount of U.S. foreign aid it receives, criticized the attack despite years of bitter disputes with Kadafi.

However, Kalb said some Arab nations have secretly applauded the U.S. stand.

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