Pentagon Insists Kadafi Wasn’t Target of Attack--but Planners Were Hopeful
While senior Pentagon officials insist that Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi was not a target of the bombing raid on Tripoli, one well-placed source said Friday “it was implicit” that military planners hoped he would be a victim of the attack.
That view was echoed by others within the Reagan Administration, who, at the same time, said the raid on the Libyan capital, conducted simultaneously with a raid on Benghazi 400 miles to the east, was not drawn up with the goal of killing the Libyan leader.
U.S. policy prohibits the government from engaging in efforts to assassinate foreign leaders.
However, one Administration source said that “there wouldn’t have been any tears shed” if the 2,000-pound bombs that were dropped on the Aziziya Barracks by F-111 fighter-bombers had brought about Kadafi’s death.
Another official said Administration experts were surprised to discover that the Libyan leader was apparently in the barracks vicinity the night of the attack, because they thought he would have had enough apprehension about U.S. moves to have avoided his usual residence.
President Reagan, in his first appearance outside Washington since the air strike, conspicuously avoided the subject of Libya. The closest the President came to it was to tell the audience at a fund-raising luncheon for Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.): “We face the central diplomatic challenge of our time--how to deal with Soviet expansionism, with imperialism and terrorism.”
Earlier in the day, as he was leaving the White House by helicopter for the New York City event, Reagan was asked by reporters if the United States had tried to kill Kadafi as part of its attack on the terrorist strongholds in Libya. “We didn’t try to kill anybody,” the President replied, according to spokesman Larry Speakes.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger told European reporters in an interview, via satellite: “We weren’t trying to get after any individual or run Kadafi out of Libya or anything of that kind.”
As evidence that Kadafi was not an intended target of the raid that struck Tripoli at 2 a.m. Tuesday (4 p.m. PST Monday), one Pentagon official maintained that the first bomber to reach the Aziziya Barracks targeted the barracks’ courtyard and not a tent known to be Kadafi’s headquarters. The barracks has been described by U.S. officials as a terrorism command-and-control center.
The official said that, because the element of surprise is lost after the initial strike, the first plane to reach the target would be the one most likely to have been assigned the task of striking the tent. A video tape shot from the airplane shows the cross-hairs of a targeting device to be aimed some distance away from the tent.
Casualties Not Estimated
In addition, he said, greater damage could have been inflicted if the bombs had fallen directly on the barracks, rather than on a courtyard.
“If they had hit the building with a 2,000-pounder, there would have been a lot more casualties,” he said. Pentagon officials have not issued any estimates of the casualties in the raid.
“You’d drop a lot more ordnance” if greater casualties had been sought, he said.
And another Pentagon official, speaking as did the others on condition that he not be identified by name, said, “If they (had) wanted to target the tent, they could have.”
Administration officials acknowledged Friday that it would be difficult to use warplanes based in Britain for another attack on Libya because of criticism heaped on Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for agreeing to the first raid. They said that if another raid were ordered, alternate plans, employing carrier-based aircraft or planes from other locations, would have to be followed.
Two Battle Groups
The Navy, which in the past has deployed only a single aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Sea for routine operations, has found itself extending deployment times so that two carrier battle groups, with at least 150 warplanes, are on station there. Even so, the Pentagon maintained that, in the Libyan strike, it needed the precision-bombing capability and the additional heavy bombs that the Air Force F-111s, based in Britain, were able to provide. The Navy aircraft used in the Libyan raid were A-6 attack planes, based on the carriers.
One military source said that, for a similar mission in the future, A-6s based on an aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean could be flown over the Red Sea and Suez Canal to the Mediterranean, using aerial refueling. However, it would be unlikely that aircraft involved in such an operation could go undiscovered before reaching their targets, the source added.
Another option would involve using a battleship. However, off-shore shelling from the 16-inch guns of the New Jersey, for example, would not be as precise as a low-level bombing run and would “leave a pretty big imprint,” he said.
Times staff writer Robert Shogan contributed to this report from New York.