TRIPOLI, Libya, April 15, 1986 (UPI) - The United States unleashed its biggest air strike since the Vietnam War today, bombing Libyan military bases, an oil port and Moammar Khadafy's residence and killing at least 16 people, one of them reportedly the Libyan leader's adopted baby girl.
The bombardment left at least four people dead and more than 100 wounded. Two of Khadafy's sons, ages 3 and 4, were wounded.
After nightfall in Tripoli, the roar of anti-aircraft guns could be heard, arousing fears that another raid was under way. Washington denied a second attack was beginning and the source of the gunfire was not clear.
The director of Tripoli Children's Hospital said Khadafy's 15-month-old adopted daughter, Hana, died when U.S. bombs smashed into the Azizzia compound just outside Tripoli, where the colonel makes his headquarters.
Some 13 hours after the raid, a Libyan naval vessel fired two shells at a U.S. radar station on the Italian island of Lampedusa south of Sicily in retaliation for the attack, officials said. There were no reports of injuries or damage.
Tripoli and the port city of Benghazi were attacked by U.S. warplanes from carriers off the Libyan coast and long-range bombers that streaked 3,200 miles from bases in Britain to their targets inside the North African nation.
Libyan Radio said Khadafy was not injured and state-run Damascus radio said the Libyan leader spoke with Syrian President Hafez Assad a few hours after the strikes.
A French television station showed footage it said was provided by the Libyan government after the bombing showing Khadafy speaking with the Soviet ambassador.
One U.S. plane was reported missing after the raid and a search was launched in the Mediterranean but a Pentagon source said ''there's not much chance we'll ever find'' the crew.
Sixteen of the 18 F-111s in what the Pentagon called ''Operation El Dorado'' returned to Britain and one made an emergency landing early today at a joint U.S.-Spanish air base at Rota, Spain, because of an overheated engine.
Libyan Radio, however, said three U.S. planes had been shot down and their pilots beaten to death by angry civilians. The radio later said 20 planes were downed.
Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger discounted Tripoli's claim. ''We don't think that there were any planes that we know of that were hit by fire,'' he said.
Libyan authorities called the Belgian embassy in Tripoli Monday night to ask for diplomatic help in ending American military action, Belgian Foreign Minister Leo Tindemans said today from Brussels. He said the Libyan request was promptly transmitted to Washington.
Tindemans said Libya later denied the request, which puzzled him. Belgium has been handling U.S. interests in Libya since American diplomatic links with Libya were severed in August 1981.
U.S. officials said the targets were Azizyah Barracks, a Khadafy headquarters; the military side of the Tripoli airport to ground Libyan fighters; the Sidi Bilal port facility, described as a training facility for commandos; the Jamahiriyah Barracks in Benghazi, a military command post across the Gulf of Sidra from Tripoli; and Benina military air field.
At Mildenhaul Air Base in Britain, reporters said 14 F-111 took off from the installation this afternoon but base officials refused to say whether the planes were bound for Libya for a second attack.
White House spokesman Larry Speakes said today that he did not ''have information on the reported departure of the bombers, but later, when asked if the attacks on Libya were over, he replied, ''Yes.''
The 2 a.m. attack on Libya by 18 British-based F-111 bombers and 15 attack planes from 6th Fleet aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean struck at least six sites in Tripoli.
The eastern port city of Benghazi, site of a Soviet-built anti-aircraft missile base, also was a target in the raid -- the biggest U.S. air strike since the Vietnam War.
The French Embassy in Tripoli was badly damaged in the raid but there were no reports of injuries to embassy personnel.
The British Broadcasting Corp. said the Austrian Embassy and the Swiss ambassador's residence were damaged during the bombing along with the Libyan naval academy and a military base adjoining Tripoli's international airport.
Reporters counted least 16 people were known killed in the bombing and more than 100 injured, including Italians, Yugoslavs and Greeks.
Reporters were taken on a tour three hours after the bombing to survey the damage. Mountains of debris stood up to 20 feet high where homes once had been and the charred and twisted metal skeletons of cars littered the streets.
Water from ruptured water mains filled bomb craters.
At one bomb-scarred courtyard, rescue workers were trying to pull Mohammed Ibrahim M'sheri from a damaged home. He died before they could free him.
Another man's body was pulled from the rubble near a residential area near the French Embassy. Later, rescue workers found the body of a small girl and a torso. There was no word on Libyan military casualties.
Weinberger said he had no information that civilians were hit.
''There were military targets very close in the area that we believe were hit,'' he said. ''We don't know anything about any of the so-called civilian damages.''
One bomb landed near the French Embassy, caving in one side of the three-story modern building. An adjacent residential duplex was demolished.
Observers said at least six shells exploded in the upper middle-class residential neighborhood around the French Embassy.
Vasic Branco, 34, a Yugoslav, was among the injured at Central Hospital. His forehead was stitched and his faced bandaged.
''I was driving along the road when I heard an explosion. I didn't see anything,'' he told visiting reporters. ''A Libyan dragged me out of my car and took me to the hospital.''
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher approved the use of Britain-based U.S. F-111 fighter-bombers for the attack -- the first American bombing mission from British soil since World War II.
The United States has abundant air power aboard its Mediterranean-based carriers. But the Britain-based F-111 is an especially accurate, all-weather bomber whose low-level capability gives it an added edge in evading enemy radar.
Thatcher came under fire for what an opposition leader called her ''groveling subservience'' to Reagan in allowing the United States to use British bases to launch the air raids.
The U.S. planes had to take a circuitous route to their target - covering some 3,200 miles and refueling in flight because both France and Italy refused to allow the U.S. warplanes to pass through their air space on the mission.
Iran and Syria condemned the U.S. air attacks on Libya. Hours later an underground group in Beirut said it had decided to retaliate by kidnapping and killing American, French and British nationals in Lebanon.
The Soviet Union called the U.S. attack a ''bloody crime'' but Israel's ambassador to the United Nations said it showed Khadafy ''the victims of his assaults and killers will not sit back and take it.''
In Bonn, West Germany, Economics Minister Martin Bangemann lambasted the attack as ''a step for which there can be no understanding. It is in any case not an appropriate way to combat terrorism in a lasting way.''
Poland, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria, the Soviet Union's Warsaw Pact allies, also condemned the attack, with the official Czech news agency saying it was a bid to bring the Arab world ''down to its knees.''
In Washington, Clovis Maksoud, Arab League ambassador to the United States, said the entire Arab world supported Khadafy in his fight with the United States.
''We rally around the Arab flag,'' he told ABC News.