March 24, 1986

U.S. naval aircraft and ships carrying out a peaceful freedom of navigation and overflight exercise in international waters and airspace in the Gulf of Sidra were fired on Monday by missile forces of Libya. This morning at 7:52 a.m. e.s.t. Libyan forces without provocation fired two long-range SA - 5 surface-to-air missiles from Sirte on the northern coast of Libya at U.S. aircraft operating in international waters in the Gulf of Sidra. U.S. forces had been operating in that area since Sunday afternoon. Two additional SA - 5's and an SA - 2 were launched from Sirte at 12:45 p.m. An additional SA - 5 was fired at 1:14 p.m. At this point Libyan forces had fired a total of six surface-to-air missiles at U.S. forces.

At approximately 2 p.m., a U.S. aircraft fired two Harpoon antiship missiles at a Libyan missile patrol boat which was located near the 32o30'N line and was a threat to U.S. naval forces. The Libyan fast-attack craft was hit. The ship is dead in the water, burning, and appears to be sinking. There are no apparent survivors. At approximately 3 p.m., U.S. forces operating south of the 32o30'N line responded to the missile attacks by launching two HARM's (high-speed antiradiation missiles) at the SA - 5 site at Sirte. At that time the SA - 5 complex was attempting to engage our aircraft. We are assessing the damage now. We have no reports of any U.S. casualties and no loss of U.S. aircraft or ships.

This attack was entirely unprovoked and beyond the bounds of normal international conduct. U.S. forces were intent only upon making the legal point that, beyond the internationally recognized 12-mile limit, the Gulf of Sidra belongs to no one and that all nations are free to move through international waters and airspace. We deny Libya's claim, as do almost all other nations, and we condemn Libya's actions. They point out again for all to see the aggressive and unlawful nature of Colonel Qadhafi's regime.

It should be noted that because of these numerous Libyan missile launches and indications that they intended to continue air and missile attacks on U.S. forces, we now consider all approaching Libyan forces to have hostile intent. We have taken appropriate measures to defend ourselves in this instance. We did not, of course, proceed into this area with our eyes closed. We reserve the right to take additional measures as events warrant.

Note: Larry M. Speakes read the statement to reporters at 5 p.m. in the Briefing Room at the White House. Libya claimed the area south of latitude 32o30' as its territorial waters.