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What Was Operation El Dorado Canyon, the US Attack on Libya in 1986?


What Was Operation El Dorado Canyon, the US Attack on Libya in 1986?

An F-111 on its way to attacking Libya in April 1986.

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Question: What Was Operation El Dorado Canyon, the US Attack on Libya in 1986?
Answer: Operation El Dorado Canyon was the name of the military operation President Ronald Reagan ordered against Libya on April 15, 1986, in retaliation for a terrorist bombing at a Berlin, Germany, discotheque that April 5.

That bombing, which the Reagan administration attributed to Libya's Muammar el Qaddafi, killed three people--a Turkish woman and two American soldiers. The bombing injured some 230 people, including several dozen U.S. servicemen.

Reagan ordered the U.S. Air Force to launch attacks on Tripoli, the Libyan capital, and Benghazi, the country's largest city on the northeastern shore. The April 15 raid was conducted by 18 F-111 bombers that took off from England and 15 A-7 and A-6 jets that took off from two aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean, the Coral Sea and the America.

The raid was launched around 2 a.m. local time. One F-111 was shot down. Planes struck Qaddafi's military headquarters and a naval academy and air bases in Tripoli and Benghazi, along with the residential neighborhood of Bin Ashur in Tripoli, where 15 people were reported killed, and 60 injured. The four or five bombs that dropped on the neighborhood had been aiming for the nearby headquarters of the Libyan intelligence agency.

Qaddafi's 15-month-old daughter, Hana, was killed (her skull fractured and she suffered severe internal injuries from the concussion of the blast), and two other sons were seriously injured: Seif el-Arab, who was 4, and Camis, who was 3. All eight of Qaddafi's children were rushed to hospital after the raid.

Hana had been adopted when she was four months old from a nursery. Qaddafi neither visited the children in the hospital nor attended his daughter's burial that same day.

Seif el-Arab was killed by a NATO raid on April 30, 2011.

The 1986 attack was not well received either in the Arab world. In the United States, Reagan's approval of the raid registered 77 percent in a New York Times/CBS News poll, and support for Reagan's handling of foreign affairs briefly surged, from 51 percent to 76 percent. But approval masked unease in some quarters.

"There are many more doubts about the wisdom of the U.S. attack on Libya here at Indiana University than TV reports indicate among the public at large," Flora Lewis, the foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times, wrote at the time. "The overriding purpose of the American President has to be to protect the lives of American citizens. The 'success' of the attack has to be measured in those terms, not by the amount of damage wreaked. To be sure, impassive tolerance of aggression, even in the infuriating but limited form of terrorism, would not advance that cause. But neither does the blunt use of so much force."

Columnist Tom Wicker wrote: "Libya, despite its Soviet weapons and its leader's chest-thumping, is small and weak. Time and history may prove Mr. Reagan's raids to have been necessary, even fruitful. But even if they do, violence and death are seldom cause for celebration; and neither is the spectacle of a big power attacking a small one, whatever the justification."

The Reagan administration's handling of the raid was hurried, and was followed up by embarrassing revelations several months later. Bob Woodward, the reporter, revealed that the administration had devised a policy to plant false information in the press, the American press included, to convince Qaddafi that an attack on Libya was imminent, and that he would be overthrown.

The administration also conceded that a State Department memo had discussed the assassination of Qaddafi. "The memorandum went on to say that if the Libyan leader became unsettled and insecure," The Times reported at the time, "he might take repressive actions against his own army 'which in turn may prompt a coup or assassination attempt.'"

A month after that, the Iran-Contra scandal broke over the Reagan administration, quickly erasing all public approval gains Reagan had won from the raid, and bringing his administration to its lowest point in six years--and Reagan himself to the brink of impeachment.

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