On this day in 1986, US President Reagan ordered air attacks against Libya

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On this day in 1986, US President Ronald Reagan ordered a series of limited air strikes against Libya the aerial campaign in retaliation for Libyan agents’ bombing of a West Berlin nightclub.

Reagan had ordered the aerial campaign in retaliation for Libyan agents’ bombing of a West Berlin nightclub, La Belle,  on April 5 that killed three people, including a U.S. serviceman, and injured 229 more.


During the attack, code-named “Operation El Dorado Canyon,”, 18 F-111 bombers supported by four EF-111 electronic countermeasure aircraft, flying from Britain, bombed the airfield in Tripoli, the Libyan capital; a frogman training center at a naval academy; and the Bab al-Azizia barracks in Tripoli.

The main attack lasted about 12 minutes, during which about 60 tons of munitions were dropped.

A Libyan missile shot down an American F-111 over the Gulf of Sidra, killing Air Force Capts. Fernando L. Ribas-Dominicci and Paul F. Lorence.

Meantime, 24 aircraft, armed with anti-radar HARM missiles — their first combat use — were launched from the aircraft carriers Coral Sea and America. They bombed radar and anti-aircraft sites as well as military barracks in and around Benghazi in eastern Libya.

France, Spain and Italy denied the U.S. Air Force overflight rights, forcing that portion of the operation to be flown over Portugal and through the Strait of Gibraltar, adding 1,300 miles each way to the mission and requiring multiple aerial refueling of the planes.

Forewarned, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his family fled from their residence in the Bab al-Azizia compound moments before the bombs fell. Gaddafi claimed that his adopted infant daughter, Hana, was killed in the attack.