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Qadhafi Era Combat Operations

Although never tested in large-scale actions, the Libyan armed forces were involved in low-level hostilities on a number of occasions. A sharp series of border clashes occurred with Egypt in 1977, and Libyan forces were flown into Uganda in 1978 in an unsuccessful effort to defend the regime of Idi Amin Dada against invading Tanzanian forces. In addition, the Libyans have conducted a series of campaigns in northern Chad since 1980. The Libyan dictator launched his military on campaigns of aggression against Chad in 1980 and again in 1983. In April 1987, Qadhafi suffered a disastrous defeat in Chad -- losing nearly a quarter of his invasion force. In brief engagements in 1981 and 1986, they proved to be outmatched against United States air power.

The cause of the hostilities between Egypt and Libya was never clearly established, although the attacks were probably initiated by Egypt as punishment for Libyan interference and a warning against the Soviet-backed arms buildup. After border violations alleged by both sides, fighting escalated on July 19, 1977, with an artillery duel, and, two days later, a drive along the coast by Egyptian armor and infantry during which the Libyan army was engaged. Egypt claimed successful surprise air strikes against the Libyan air base at Al Adem (Gamal Abdul Nasser Air Base) just south of Tobruk, destroying aircraft on the ground; surface-to-air missile batteries and radar stations were also knocked out.

When the Egyptians withdrew on July 24, most foreign analysts agreed that the Egyptian units had prevailed, although Libyan forces reacted better than had been expected. The Qadhafi regime nevertheless hailed the encounter as a victory, citing the clash as justification for further purchases of modern armaments.

In the case of Uganda, Qadhafi had befriended the despotic ruler Idi Amin as a fellow Muslim and potential ally of the Arab cause in Africa. Libya had intervened on Amin's behalf during his first confrontation with neighboring Tanzania in 1972 by airlifting a contingent of four hundred troops into the country. During the invasion of Uganda by Tanzanian troops and Ugandan exiles in 1978, a new Libyan force estimated at 2,000 to 2,500 was sent, assisting in the defense of Entebbe and the capital of Kampala by covering road junctions with armored equipment. Inexperienced, undisciplined, and in unfamiliar forested terrain, the Libyan troops were quickly routed in attacks by foot soldiers. As many as 600 Libyans were estimated to have been killed during the Ugandan operation, and the defeated remainder were hurriedly withdrawn. The troops reputedly were led to believe they were being airlifted into Uganda for training exercises with Ugandan units. They were totally unprepared for actual combat and, having little motivation to fight, often tried to flee.

Libya's relations with Sudan, like relations with virtually all other Arab and African countries, fluctuated. Initially, Libya supported Sudanese President Jaafar an Numayri against an unsuccessful leftist coup attempt in 1971. Libya turned over two of the top communist plotters to the Sudanese authorities, who executed them shortly afterward. However, a year later Sudan accused Libya of involvement in three successive coup attempts and severed diplomatic relations. Relations began improving by the fall of 1977, as Numayri and Sudanese opposition leaders began a reconciliation. In February 1978, Libya and Sudan agreed to resume relations but relations soon became strained after Qadhafi condemned Sudanese support for President Anwar al Sadat of Egypt and for the Camp David accords of September 1978.

Libya was particularly annoyed by the steadily improving relations between Sudan and Egypt during the closing years of the Numayri regime, which culminated eventually in an Egyptian-Sudanese integration charter that provided Egypt with an air base in Sudan that could serve as a counterweight to Libyan regional power. Feeling threatened by the Cairo-Khartoum alliance and its alignment with the West, in August 1981 Qadhafi formed the Tripartite Alliance with Ethiopia and South Yemen PDRY, each of which was aligned closely with the Soviet Union.

After Numayri's fall from power in April 1985, Sudanese-Libyan relations improved. Qadhafi ended his aid to the Christian and animist, southern-based, Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) led by Garang and welcomed the incoming government of General Sawar Dhahab. In July 1985, a military protocol was signed between the two countries, and Qadhafi was the first head of state to visit the new Khartoum government. Qadhafi then strongly supported Sudanese opposition leader Sadiq al Mahdi, who became prime minister on May 6, 1986. Nonetheless, the initial euphoria was subsequently replaced by Sudan's search for a truly neutral regional and global stance. With regard to the Chadian conflict, for instance, Mahdi's government declared its neutrality and asked that Libyan forces be withdrawn from Sudanese territory. Prime Minister Mahdi's attempts to mediate the Libyan-Chadian conflict have so far proved unsuccessful, although delegations from the warring factions have met several times during 1986 and 1987, under Sudanese aegis.

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Page last modified: 23-10-2013 19:13:01 ZULU