Soviets Reported Unloading Anti-Aircraft Equipment in Libyan Port
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The State Department has received reports of Soviet anti-aircraft missiles being unloaded in a key Libyan port, but the information is as yet unconfirmed, a department spokesman said late Friday.
″I’ve heard of it. I simply don’t know what degree of credibility to give it,″ said department public affairs spokesman Michael Austrian.
He said the reports surfaced from State Department sources in the last couple of days.
ABC News on Friday night quoted U.S. intelligence sources as saying that two Soviet ships were unloading new long-range SA5 anti-aircraft missles, launchers, radar and transporters in the port of Misurata. The network said analysts had determined the equipment would be enough to set up two anti- aircraft sites with six launchers per site. The SA5 could provide Libyan strongman Moammar Khadafy for the first time with an effective weapon to challenge American planes flying over the disputed waters of the Gulf of Sidra, ABC noted.
In August 1981, two U.S. F-14 fighters shot down two Soviet-built Libyan planes after a brief dogfight over the gulf. The Libyans claim the gulf as their territorial waters, but the United States maintains the region is international water beyond three miles from shore.
″There’s a lot of stuff that goes in there,″ said Austrian, declining to elaborate on the scope of the alleged shipments. Asked if the United States considered the reports of a serious nature, he replied, ″I think we take anything to do with Libya quite seriously.″
″We watch Libya very closely,″ he added.
Pentagon duty officer Marine Maj. James Pisciottano said he knew nothing of the reported shipments.
In the 1981 shooting, the United States claimed the Libyan jets opened fire on the U.S. planes, sparking the aerial battle. U.S. officials denied the F- 14s had provoked the attack.