The main civilian and military airport here, bombed on April 15 by American warplanes, was open and operating normally again today, but visible signs remained that both civilian and military Libyan planes were damaged in the raid.
Quick repair work masked some of the damage and some wreckage had been dragged behind a hangar. The tail sections of two large Soviet-made transport helicopters lay charred and twisted there. The main rotors nearby looked like enormous burned spiders. Littered across the ground were the plastic fins, the fuses and some of the unexploded cones of "bomblets" from American cluster bombs.
Precise information about the damage inflicted on military targets in Libya remains scarce. Reporters have not been allowed to visit any purely military sites. But after escorted trips to seven other places, where American bombs landed both here and in the capital, there is mounting evidence that the U.S. attacks were considerably less precise than the Pentagon has claimed.
At the same time, there are indications that the military damage was more than the Libyans are willing to admit and that some claims of civilian casualties are exaggerated.
Both here and in Tripoli 400 miles to the west, bombs appear to have cut wide swaths through at least two civilian areas that were not close to any targets acknowledged by Washington. There was also damage evident here to buildings near military installations.
Here in Benghazi, a city of 400,000, an elementary school was shattered by the impact of blast and shrapnel from at least two explosive devices.
As children in blue uniforms greeted reporters with chants of "down, down U.S.A.," another 500-pound bomb lay exposed in the courtyard. A nearby dispensary was completely crushed, with medicine and patient files strewn through the wreckage.
From there a line of craters near the center of this city ran near an overpass and ended with the devastation of a large single-story home. Neighbors said an old woman was killed there and a young man and his baby daughter died when they ran out of their house across the street and were hit by a blast.
Behind the elementary school was a low gray and white building flying the Libyan Navy's flag. The house that was hit was the residence of a senior officer in the Libyan Army referred to as Col. Ashour by his neighbors. But while either location might conceivably have been a target, neither was mentioned by Washington as such.
"What if there is a Navy building?" said Abdel Hamid Abdel Kafi, an angry resident of the neighborhood whose house was damaged. "Here" -- he pointed to the rubble on the street -- "there is nothing military whatsoever. If you find anything, please tell us."
With the passage of time since the attacks, the opportunity increases for the Libyans to obscure and possibly falsify some of the evidence. American reporters constantly compare notes and scrutinize details in order to avoid being duped. The results frequently are inconclusive.
In orange and olive groves near the adjacent Tripoli civilian and military airports, for instance, at least one of the craters appeared to have been the result of excavation rather than explosion. But elsewhere in the same area, charred trees and the shreds of parachutes on which some of the bombs apparently descended suggested that indeed a pilot had missed the airport by at least two miles.
Such errors were more critical in residential neighborhoods. Around Bin Ashur Street in Tripoli, near the French Embassy, at least four clear bomb craters were visible among collapsed houses and apartment buildings four hours after the raid. At least 14 persons died there, according to officials at one morgue.
Libyans who have suffered the bombings close at hand speak with bitterness and anger about their experience.
Today the wife of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, who said her adopted daughter had been killed in the raid, spoke to reporters for the first time since the attack. Seated in front of her bomb-blasted home in Qaddafi's Tripoli headquarters complex, a crutch in her hand, her tone was sharp and defiant.
Safia Qaddafi said she would forever consider the United States her enemy, news agencies reported from Tripoli, "unless they give [President] Reagan the death sentence."
If she ever found the U.S. pilot who dropped the bombs on her house "I will kill him myself," she vowed.
As for her husband, he is no terrorist, she explained, because if he were, "I would not have children with him."
Libyan officials said that two of Qaddafi's sons were injured in the bombing, one of whom is still in the hospital. "Some of my children are injured," Safia Qaddafi said today, "some are scarred. Maybe they have psychological damage. My adopted daughter, Hana, was killed."
At a naval secondary school near Tripoli visited yesterday, the dining complex appeared to have been the most clear-cut casualty. There was evidence that the devastated dormitory for boys 14 to 17 years old in fact burned down several hours after the raid. In this case the real target was next door, a navy divers' center at Sidi Bilal that Washington acknowledges bombing. But as with other military installations, it was off limits to the press.
The government-escorted tour here for more than 200 journalists featured damage to a recently built rehabilitation center for the handicapped, but this appears to have been slight. Two windows on the front of the building were broken and one of the staff bungalows in the rear had a large hole in its roof from a falling projectile. No pieces of the projectile were there to be examined and there was no evidence of an explosion.
The director of the rehabilitation center said there were no casualties except the nerves of the crippled patients. One mentally unbalanced woman was unable to speak for three days after the bombing, he said. In a row of apartments nearby, a hole shaped like a 500-pound bomb had been punched in one exterior wall and one interior wall where the unexploded device was reported to have decapitated a man as he lay in his bed Tuesday morning.
This was all the damage the Libyans wanted to show. But within a few hundred yards of the rehabilitation center and the apartment was what members of the center's staff called a "military camp."
The one building there that could be seen clearly was a sheet-metal structure large enough to serve as a helicopter hangar.
At least a third of it was destroyed, its girders twisted and blackened.
The Reagan administration has said that the Jamahariya Barracks in Benghazi, Qaddafi's alternate headquarters on this side of the country, was a target.
Libyan officials refused to say whether this was the same "military camp" visible from the rehabilitation center.
At the Jalal Hospital here, official spokesmen said that 24 civilians had died in the raid, 93 were injured and of those about 26 still were hospitalized. But nurses said that at least 20 of the current patients with bomb-related wounds were soldiers.
At the Benghazi airport the apron off the runway was repaired the day after the bombing, according to civilian employes. In addition to the charred remains of a Fokker 27 civilian aircraft visited by reporters, the Libyans also said a twin Otter prop plane was destroyed.
Out on the runway a Libyan Arab Airline 727 sat with three holes blown in its fuselage behind and below the shattered windshield.
There were also four apparently operational jet fighters parked at various corners of the airstrip today and from the air another one could be seen among several revetments. The other spaces in the revetments, a dozen or more, were empty. The dirt embankments around them appeared to be the deep red color of newly dug earth.
One airport employe told reporters when he was taken aside that the civilian planes that were the most seriously damaged, had been parked at the end of the civilian facility nearest the military side of the airport. CAPTION: Picture 1, Wreckage of Libyan Boeing 727 lies at Benghazi airport. It was one of several civilian aircraft destroyed in U.S. raid. AP; Picture 2, . . . "I will kill [the U.S. pilot] myself"; Picture 3, Safia Qadaffi, wife of Libyan leader, told reporters yesterday she would forever consider the United States her enemy. UPI/Reuter; Picture 4, Journalists and Libyan soldiers walk past fragments of cluster bombs gathered by the Libyans at beach in Benghazi. AP; Map, Libya. The Washington Post