Qaddafi, Terrorism, and the Origins of the U.S. Attack on Libya

By Brian L. Davis | Go to book overview

4

Operation Prairie Fire

INCEPTION AND PREPARATION

In mid-January Qaddafi had declared before a people's congress in Libya that “if war comes I believe it will be in the sea hundreds of miles away from land, ” 1 and so it would roughly be, by his choice and the choice of the Reagan administration. Among the many military contingencies reviewed by Washington planners in the wake of the Rome and Vienna massacres were plans for Sixth Fleet exercises extending into the Gulf of Sidra. Shultz and Poindexter saw already scheduled Mediterranean exercises involving three aircraft carriers (the first appearance of three carriers in the Mediterranean since 1984) as an opportunity to punish Qaddafi, not an original idea, of course. Although American forces had entered the Gulf of Sidra a number of times without drawing fire since Qaddafi's air fiasco in August 1981, the secretary of state and the national security adviser apparently believed that if the United States penetrated the gulf in a grand enough fashion, Libya would attack and give the Navy an opportunity to respond again. Weinberger and the Navy were quite willing to reassert America's right to navigate the Gulf of Sidra, in accordance with Washington's long-standing policy of challenging unreasonable nautical claims, a policy to which the Reagan administration had made an increased commitment. They were not so enthusiastic about a major clash with Libya, however. 2

Accounts have varied as to when it became settled within the U.S. government that a foray into the Gulf of Sidra would be made. By late January, there was argument over whether to proceed into the gulf with forces from the two carriers available or to wait for the third carrier to arrive in March. Sixth Fleet com-

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Qaddafi, Terrorism, and the Origins of the U.S. Attack on Libya
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Introduction ix
  • 1 - Muammar Al-Qaddafi, Leader of the Revolution 1
  • 2 - The United States and Libya, 1969-1983 33
  • 3 - The United States and Libya on a Collision Course 57
  • 4 - Operation Prairie Fire 101
  • 5 - The La Belle Discotheque Bombing and Its Aftermath 115
  • 6 - Operation El Dorado Canyon and Its Aftermath 133
  • Appendix 181
  • Bibliographical Essay 191
  • Index 193
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