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Military Deterrence of International Terrorism: An Evaluation of Operation El Dorado Canyon

NCJ Number
Studies in Conflict and Terrorism Volume: 20 Issue: 3 Dated: July-September 1997 Pages: 267-280
H W Prunckun; P B Mohr
Date Published
14 pages
The air raid by the United States on Tripoli, the capital of Libya, in April 1986 was studied with respect to whether or not it influenced the pattern of international terrorism in the period that followed.
The raid was called Operation El Dorado Canyon and was later described by President Reagan as retaliation for the direct Libyan role in the bombing of a nightclub in the Federal Republic of Germany. The raid was intended to be punishing, with high-visibility target damage, and to demonstrate to current and future enemies that the United States did not need to have an aircraft carrier nearby for them to be concerned about retaliation. The research examined the frequency and severity of acts of international terrorism over a 41-month period centered on the date of the air raid. Results indicated that the level of activity of Libyan-associated terrorist groups declined after the raid. In addition, after a brief upsurge, the frequency of attacks against United States targets declined after the raid. The number of acts of international terrorism worldwide was similar for the periods before and after the operation, the postraid period was characterized by a shift from acts of medium severity and high severity to acts of low severity in violence. Findings were inconclusive, but they were consistent with the opinion that the raid had a generalized deterrent effect on international terrorism for the period studied. Tables, figures, and 53 reference notes (Author abstract modified)