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Gulf of Sidra

In 1973, Libya claimed the Gulf of Sidra to be within Libyan territorial waters by drawing a straight line between a point near Benghazi and the western headland of the gulf at Misratah This claim was not generally accepted, although only the United States presented a direct challenge by declaring that its ships would continue to regard all areas beyond a distance of 12 nautical miles from the coast as international waters. In response the President authorized Naval exercises in the Gulf of Sidra to conduct Freedom of Navigation (FON) operations. On several occasions, Libyan fighter planes harassed United States planes from carriers maneuvering in the area.

When the United States Sixth Fleet began exercises in August 1981, Libyan fighter planes were assembled from elsewhere in the country to fly patrols near the American ships. On August 19, two Su-22 fighter-bombers were intercepted by two F-14 Tomcat fighters from the aircraft carrier Nimitz. While trying to escort the Libyans out of the exercise area, one of the American planes was the target of an air-to-air Atoll missile but was able to evade it. Both Libyan planes were then shot down with Sidewinder missiles launched by the Tomcats. The two Libyan pilots managed to eject and were rescued from the sea. The ease with which the American planes disposed of their attackers demonstrated that the earlier generation Su-22 and its Atoll missile could not prevail against more sophisticated United States equipment.



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