Operation Attain Document
Tensions between the two countries mounted after the hijacking of a TWA airliner at Beirut in July 1985 and bombing attacks at American airline counters at Rome and Vienna in December of that year. Qadhafi was implicated in these actions through his patronage of the alleged perpetrator, the Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal. The Libyans also began installing batteries of SA-5 missiles acquired from the Soviet Union in late 1985, along with associated radar, to augment their air defense capabilities. United States naval vessels continued to challenge Qadhafi's claim to the Gulf of Sidra, periodically crossing the line of Libyan territorial claim, which he came to refer to as the "line of death"
Following the terrorist attacks on 27 December 1985 in the Rome and Vienna airports, a series of Freedom of Navigation operations in the Gulf of Sidra (Operations in the Vicinity of Libya, OVL) were approved. Code-named `Attain Document,' the first two (26-30 January and 12-15 February) occurred without incident. Three carrier task forces of the Sixth Fleet with 225 aircraft assembled off the Libyan coast for maneuvers in March 1986.
During `Attain Document III (23-29 March 1986), two SA-5 missiles were shot at U.S. aircraft by a SAM Site on 24 March. Over the next 16 hours, two Libyan patrol boats were sunk by USN aircraft.
Shortly before 8:00 a.m. (EST) on March 24, two SA - 5 surface-to-air missiles were fired at U.S. aircraft flying over the high seas in the Gulf of Sidra from a Libyan missile installation in the vicinity of Sirte on the northern Libyan coast. During the course of the next few hours, several surface-to-air missiles were fired at U.S. aircraft operating over the high seas. A total of six SA-5s were launched from the new missile base at Surt against American aircraft. None was hit, however, because the SA-5, with a range of 240 kilometers, could threaten high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft over the Gulf of Sidra but was relatively ineffective against high-performance jet fighters.
Subsequently, the missile site was put out of action by carrier-based A-6 Intruders firing High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARMs), that homed in on the Libyans' radar guidance signals. At approximately 3:00 p.m. (EST) these missile installations again activated their target-acquisition radars with the evident objective of firing upon U.S. aircraft. Two HARM air-to-surface missiles were thereupon fired by a US Navy A-7 aircraft, apparently resulting in the destruction of the radars controlling the missile battery. After a short outage, the radar returned to active status and still posed a threat to U.S. forces. At 6:47 p.m., A-7 aircraft again fired two HARM missiles at the SA-5 radar at Sirte. After another short outage, the radar returned to active status.
A second strike followed the next day to knock out a replacement radar unit. Although Soviet technicians were believed to be present to oversee the installation and operation of the SA-5 batteries, none was reported injured in the exchanges.
A total of five attacks was carried out on Libyan ships. The most serious loss for the Libyans was one of the eight Soviet-supplied Nanuchka-class missile corvettes in an attack by two A-6s shortly after midnight on March 26. The Libyan missile patrol boat equipped with surface-to-surface missiles came within missile range of US ships on the high seas well away from the Libyan coast. The U.S. commander determined, in light of the Libyan attacks on U.S. aircraft, that this vessel was hostile and therefore ordered U.S. aircraft to engage it. At approximately 2:00 p.m. (EST), U.S. Navy A-6 aircraft fired two Harpoon missiles, which struck and heavily damaged the Libyan vessel.
At approximately 4:30 p.m. (EST), a second Libyan patrol boat approached U.S. forces, and was driven off by U.S. Navy aircraft. Shortly after 6:00 p.m. (EST), a third Libyan patrol craft approached the USS YORKTOWN at a high rate of speed; the YORKTOWN fired two Harpoon missiles, which hit the Libyan craft.
At the same time, a French-built Combattante-class missile attack craft was destroyed when it approached United States Navy ships protecting the aircraft carriers. Shortly after 12:20 a.m. (EST) on March 25, U.S. Navy A-6 aircraft armed with Harpoon missiles attacked another Libyan craft, apparently resulting in the sinking of that vessel. All U.S. aircraft returned safely to their carriers, and no casualties or damage were suffered by U.S. forces. The extent of Libyan casualties is not known.
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