Libya Table of Contents
Although never tested in large-scale actions, the Libyan armed forces have been 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. 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600 Libyans were estimated to have been killed during the Ugandan operation, and the defeated remainder were hurriedly withdrawn.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.
Data as of 1987