Libyan jet fighters, in the first such overt military move since the U.S. bombing raids last year, twice last week flew so near a Navy cruiser in the Mediterranean that the ship's crew was forced to man battle stations, Pentagon sources said yesterday.
The Pentagon, in a statement in response to a reporter's query, confirmed that the Soviet-made MiG-23 "Flogger" fighters approached the nuclear-powered USS South Carolina twice on June 17, but declined to say the crew was forced to battle stations. The ship "was ready for any eventuality had the MiG23s demonstrated hostile intent," the department said in a statement.
Pentagon sources, who spoke on condition they not be identified, said the flights had caused the cruiser's crew to man battle stations both times.
The ship was steaming with two smaller Navy ships in the central Mediterranean, approximately 100 miles from the Libyan coastline and above Libya's so-called "line of death," at a time when no U.S. aircraft carrier was in the region.
Two Libyan jets first approached the cruiser around 1 p.m., flying within seven miles of the cruiser, the Pentagon said in its statement. A second flight by another pair of MiGs occurred around 4 p.m., and this time the fighters flew over the ship at an altitude of approximately 6,000 feet, the Pentagon said.
In both instances, the fighters had been monitored by the cruiser almost from the moment they flew northward from Libya over the Mediterranean, the Pentagon said.
"The aircraft did not demonstrate hostile intent," the Pentagon added.