Mitiga International Airport (IATA: MJI, ICAO: HLLM) is an airport in Libya, located about seven statute miles (11 km) east of Tripoli.
The civilian airport was established in 1995. Domestic flights to Benghazi and Musrata are flown, as well as international service to Istanbul, Turkey and Aleppo, Syria.
Prior to June 1970, the United States Air Force (USAF) used the facility, then known as Wheelus Air Base.
Subsequently the facility was known as Okba Ben Nafi Air Base, a Libyan People's Air Force (LPAF) installation. During the Cold War, aircraft and personnel of the Soviet Air Force took residence at Okba Ben Nafi Air Base.
The base housed the LPAF's headquarters and a large share of its major training facilities. LPAF Soviet-made MiG-17/19/25 fighters and Tu-22 bombers were based at Okba Ben Nafi Air Base. The Mig-25s were the first sold to an air force other than that of the Soviet Union itself.
In 1986, the base was a primary target of Operation Eldorado Canyon (see below), a United States retalliatory strike against Libya for Libyan missile attacks on U.S. aircraft over the Mediterranean Sea and Libyan involvement in alleged terrorist attacks on U.S. servicemen in Europe.
After the USAF left, Wheelus became a Libyan People's Air Force installation and was renamed Okba Ben Nafi Air Base. OBN AB housed the LPAF's headquarters and a large share of its major training facilities.
LPAF Soviet-made MiG-17/19/25 fighters and Tu-22 bombers were based at Okba Ben Nafi Air Base. Of the combat aircraft, the United States Department of State estimated in 1983 that 50 percent remained in storage, including most of the MiG fighters and Tu-22 bombers.
In addition, aircraft and personnel of the Soviet Air Force took residence at Okba Ben Nafi Air Base. With Soviet assistance, the Libyan Air Force was organized into one medium bomber squadron, three fighter interceptor squadrons, five forward ground attack squadrons, one counterinsurgency squadron, nine helicopter squadrons, and three air defense brigades deploying SA-2, SA-3, and Crotale missiles
Operation El Dorado Canyon
At 0200 hours on 16 April 1986 Okba Ben Nafi AB, various Libyan government buildings, and three of 30 Libyan terrorist training camps were bombed by F-111Fs from USAFE's 48th Tactical Fighter Wing (48 TFW), flying non-stop from RAF Lakenheath, UK, to Libya in "Operation El Dorado Canyon".
The mission was in retaliation for Libyan missile attacks on U.S. aircraft over the Mediterranean Sea and Libyan involvement in alleged terrorist attacks on U.S. servicemen in Europe.
Operation El Dorado Canyon included eighteen 48 TFW F-111F "Aardvark" fighter-bombers (Pave Tack-equipped), five EF-111A "Sparkvarks" from the 66th Electronic Combat Wing/42nd Electronic Combat Squadron at RAF Upper Heyford, UK, and carrier-based U.S. Navy F-14 Tomcats and A-6E Intruders.
The 66 ECW Sparkvarks formed up with the attack force to provide electronic defense during the attack. One 48 TFW F-111F (AF Serial No. 70-2389, callsign "Karma 52") was lost outbound from the attack to (presumably) a SAM or AAA hit. The pilot, Major Fernando Ribas-Dominici and the WSO, Capt Paul Lorence, were lost.
The 14-hour 5,800-mile (9,300 km) (9,300 km) round trip to Libya required numerous in-air refuelings (over seven million pounds of fuel), because countries closer to Libya—Spain, Italy, France, and Greece—had refused American planes permission to fly over or from bases in their countries.
Ironically, the 48 TFW had practiced for years at Wheelus with F-100s and later at Zaragoza AB Spain with F-4D Phantoms and the F-111s for just such a mission.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the elimination of military aid by the new Russian republic, Okba Ben Nafi AB drastically curtailed its military mission.
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The content above was published at Airports-Worldwide.com in 2010.
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