Responding to poor earnings due to falling oil prices, Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi expels all foreign workers from his country. Up to ninety thousand refugees begin to pour into Medenine City in Tunisia. The Tunisian government notes that the Libyan Air Force has, in observing the refugee movement, regularly violated Tunisian air space. US President Ronald Reagan describes this as “a grave and direct threat to regional peace in North Africa”.
Two Libyan MiG-25’s drive back a US Navy surveillance plane over the Gulf of Sidra, but flee before reinforcements can be brought in from the USS Coral Sea. US President Reagan states that the presence of Soviet aircraft and ships in the region is provocative and suggests that the Soviets have provided an additional $1 billion in debt relief to Libya.
With a large Soviet naval contingent now in the Gulf of Sidra, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Schevardnadze visits Tripoli. He advises Colonel Muammar Qaddafi that the Soviet Union will no longer allow his continued interference in the internal affairs of Chad, but will recognise the Libyan claim to the Aouzou Strip. The proviso is that Libya immediately withdraw all forces in Chad to the Aouzou Strip. The measure is to build Franco-Soviet relations and support the Socialist government in upcoming elections.
The United States Navy orders two aircraft carriers, the USS Coral Sea and the USS Saratoga, into the Gulf of Sidra, along with twenty-three auxiliary vessels of the Sixth Fleet. Already in the region are two Soviet contingents of Tupolev Tu-16 jet bombers, plus regular air sorties by the Libyan Air Force. It appears inevitable that there will be conflict over Gaddafi’s decision to extend his sea boundary.
The USS America aircraft carrier leaves Norfolk, Virginia, dispatched to the Mediterranean Sea. Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi states that he is unimpressed and tells American journalists that the $800,000 per day required to keep the aircraft carrier at sea is a “monumental waste of American money at a time they claim to be cutting spending”. Despite suggestions to the contrary, the USS Saratoga will replenish in Naples and will return to service within a fortnight.
Two US reconnaissance planes (EA-6B Prowlers) cross into the exclusion zone in the Gulf of Sidra after the Soviet representatives walk out of diplomatic talks aimed at preventing the situation from becoming critical. Libyan authorities respond by firing six missiles from an anti-aircraft installation, bringing down one of the jets, at the cost of the radar on the installation.
In limited conflict in the Gulf of Sidra, the United States Navy sinks two Libyan patrol boats, but loses an A-7 attack plane in an attempt to take out the radar transmitters for Libya’s S-10 anti-aircraft missiles. The White House meets with congressional oversight to discuss the issue. With two planes having been splashed, one with casualties, there are fears that the situation could quickly turn into a full-scale regional conflict.
US Defence Secretary Weinberger announces the recovery of the body of Abu Nidal from a plane crash in the Mediterranean. This delays criticisms of the performance of the US military in the Gulf of Sidra, which has been regarded as a tactical draw as reporters speculate about the future of the Abu Nidal Organisation. Weinberger states that the situation in Libya has not yet reached its “logical conclusion” and that the United States remains committed to “the freedom of international waters”.
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, seeking to neutralise the use of British airbases for a potential strike against his country, announces that he will end financial and logistical support for the Provisional IRA. Gaddafi has previously denied any involvement with the Provisional IRA, despite evidence to the contrary. While the Thatcher government expresses its pleasure at the decision, the White House points out that Libya remains a primary sponsor for terrorist groups across the planet.
US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral William Crowe, admits that the US naval taskforce remains in the Gulf of Sidra, but refuses to comment on leaks that the US is intending to “send a clear message and punish Libya for its sponsorship of international terrorism”. Rumours are circulating that the US has delayed an attack to undertake the extraction of key intelligence agents and to ready greater levels of firepower. US Secretary of State George Schultz states that the United States must retaliate and admits that Egypt has been approached to base air and ground forces, but has refused.
The US Navy and Air Force conduct a joint operation over Libya, eliminating two barracks, two airfields, a “terrorist training camp” and the two new major air defence installations. Six F-111s and three A-6Es are downed in the process, but with only one death. Unfortunately, two Americans pilots are left in Libyan hands and, during the bombings, the daughter of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the nation’s leader, is killed.
There are wide criticisms of the United States for the attack upon Libya, including from the UN General Assembly, but at a meeting in Paris, both French Prime Minister Simone Veil and her British counterpart, Margaret Thatcher, refuse to condemn the attack. Both deny prior knowledge. Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez criticises the action, as does Chancellor of West Germany, Helmut Kohl. It is roundly condemned in the Arab and African states. The “on-again, off-again” Soviet-US summit is now off again. The US President, Ronald Reagan, demands the return of the two pilots, who he states are “hostages”.
Pope John Paul II is credited with the release of two American pilots “held hostage from Libya”, but Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi warns that the United States should expect retaliation from his intelligence services. (Both pilots will receive the Meritorious Service Medal. Major Luis Ribas-Dominicci returns to Puerto Rico as a hero and later serves as Mayor of San Juan. His crewmate, Paul Florence, will later teach military history at the US Air Force Academy.)
In response to street riots following the Gulf of Sidra bombings, two hundred and fifty US embassy staff are evacuated from Khartoum, the capital of the Sudan. In the Netherlands, meanwhile, where an election is shortly due, the matter becomes a political issue with the opposition Labor Party trying to trick Foreign Minister Hans van der Broek into criticising the US action.
The two US Air Force pilots arrive back in the United States to overwhelming fervour and are greeted at the White House by US President Ronald Reagan, only hours before he leaves for an emergency trip to Saudi Arabia. While America lost some technology in the battle with Libya, it is seen as a tactical victory due to the lack of casualties on the US side and the damage inflicted on the new Soviet weapons.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Vernon Walters urges strong sanctions by West European allies against Libya. “Gaddafi has not forsaken his desire to develop capacity for terrorism on a global scale,” he suggests. Syrian President Hafez Assad visits Tripoli in support and suggests that both Iran and his nation stand ready to defend Libya in the event of any conflict. Comecon Secretary General Janos Kadar states that the US is “shadowboxing” to avoid attention to the “multiple flaws and corruption of the Reagan Administration”.
After revelations by the Washington Post, US National Security Advisor Lt General Colin Powell denies that the Administration has orchestrated a deliberate campaign to mislead the American public regarding Libya. He admits that there have been misinformation attempts to make Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi believe that his key trusted aides are plotting against him, but that the deception of the US people was “incidental”.
Egyptian officials claim that the Libyan air force has violated its air space five times in the last eight weeks, particularly around the Siwah Oasis, an area west of Qattara that is isolated from the rest of Egypt by the Western Desert. It excites claims that Libya might attempt to subvert aquifer water.
Following meetings with Janos Kadar, the Secretary General of Comecon, in Tripoli, Gaddafi announces that Comecon has agreed to extend a nil-interest loan to his government for the construction of an astronomical centre at Kufra. In “recognition of the spirit of mutual generosity”, Gaddafi states that he will seek meetings with British Foreign Minister Sir Geoffrey Howe to normalise relations and settle compensation over outstanding issues.
With little warning, Libyan Tupolev bombers cross the border with Chad, eliminating all but one road into Bardai, the capital of the Tibesti Subprefecture. They claim to be acting in support and at the request of Goukoni Oueddei, the former President of Chad during the last national unity government, who moves into the city and establishes it as a base of operations. Oueddei has released a statement calling for a new constitution and liberalisation of political activity. He also offers to meet with his former Vice President, Wadel Abdelkader Kamougue, a member of the Sara tribe, to reform the unity government in N’Djamena.
The US Navy shoots downs two Libyan jets operating in the Gulf of Sidra. The US pilots claim that the Libyans were acting with hostile intent and that destroying them was the only option. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi denies that he had given any orders for an attack and questions whether the Americans might have been in Libyan waters.
US President George Bush defends the Navy over the recent combat with Libyan jets in the Gulf of Sidra, despite accusations of state terrorism. It is said that French President Laurent Fabius is severely irritated by US intervention as he had been in talks with Tripoli regarding a possible intervention in Chad. British Prime Minister Neil Kinnock publicly calls for calm, and calls for Libya to “contribute to regional peace”, criticising their alleged involvement in Chad, Sudan and Morocco.
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi condemns the United States for its “persistent harassment” during a trip to Germany to discuss an agreement which will extend to the West Germans the same labour, investment and technology rights traditionally granted to their eastern brothers. West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl defends the decision to parley with Libya, stating that there is no concrete evidence that Libya remains a “terrorist state”.
President Goukouni Oueddei of Chad and Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi of Libya agree to refer their dispute over the Aouzou Strip to the International Court of Justice as part of the establishment of a formal alliance between the two countries. Libya will pay to build a headquarters for the alliance in N’Djamena and will pay Chad development aid. The two countries will conduct annual meetings between their heads of government, defence and treasury. Both countries formally denounce the use, storage or development of weapons of mass destruction. Gaddafi insists that the alliance is not an attempt to take over Chad by stealth, but argues that “Africans should not remain wedded to colonial borders”.
The United States and France move a joint resolution at the UN General Assembly, condemning the alliance between Libya and Chad, citing Libya’s ongoing claim to disputed international waters and Chad’s actions in Sudan as signs of a growing “Islamic socialist” threat in northern Africa. The motion fails to pass and would have no start in the Security Council, where the Soviet Commonwealth, China and Britain are adopting a “wait-and-see” approach.