NEW EVIDENCE ON THE 1986 U.S. AIR RAID ON LIBYA

Nov 16, 2001

WASHINGTON, D.C.-New documentation from the former East German State Security Service throws new light on the 1986 terrorist attack on the "La Belle" discotheque in Berlin. A German court today found Libya responsible for the attack. The new evidence was obtained and published today by scholars associated with The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars' Cold War International History Project (CWIHP) and its affiliate, the Parallel History Project (PHP).

The recently released documents regarding the U.S. retaliatory raid provoked by the attack and of the Libyan response comes from a report made at that time by Soviet General Koldunov after an on-site inspection. It was given at a confidential briefing of Soviet allies during the session of the Military Council of the Warsaw Pact on 23-25 April 1986.

General Koldunov's account discredits long-standing Libyan assertions that as many as 20 U.S. aircraft were lost in the raid; in fact, only one failed to return. The report sheds light on the tense relationship between the Soviet Union, which supplied Libya with advanced air defenses, and the state ranking at that time as a premier sponsor of international terrorism. Soviet-supplied Libyan fighters never took off and missile complexes never fired as their crews fled in panic.

U.S. retaliatory action fulfilled its short-term purpose of jolting Colonel Muammar Ghadaffi's regime, exposing it to the danger of an overthrow from within, but did not succeed in turning the tide of international terrorism. "In the polarized world of that time," Schäfer, a senior research scholar at the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C., concludes in his commentary on the document, "there was no room for an international 'coalition against terror'."

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Laura Deal // Catalog Specialist
  • Pieter Biersteker // Editorial Assistant
  • Charles Kraus // Program Assistant
  • Evan Pikulski // Program Assistant
  • Roy O. Kim // Program Assistant
  • James Person // Deputy Director, History and Public Policy Program; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project