Wheelus Air Base – Tripoli, Libya - Atlas Obscura

Wheelus Air Base

Tripoli, Libya

70 years of foreign military influence on the shores of Tripoli, Libya. 


Between its construction in 1923, and the end of the Cold War in 1991, Wheelus Air Base belonged to five major world powers. Following the base’s ownership neatly parallels world history’s major events, and follows the evolution of power throughout the 20th century. After invading in 1911, Italy took control of Libya as a colony, and opened the air base in 1923. During World War II, another axis power, the Nazis took over the air base as a strategic post in the Mediterranean. As the war turned, the British seized control of the base in 1943, and began a long period of Western influence in Libya.

Following the war, Wheelus was handed over to the United States. America immediately jumped on the opportunity to hold a base in a location strategic to North Africa, the Middle East and Europe. Shortly after taking control, there were 5,000 air force troops deployed at the base, and Wheelus became known as “Little America.”

While the Americans controlled the base, some Libyan forces were also deployed there, working side by side on their aircraft. One of these men was Muammar Gaddafi, who before instituting his own brand of strict religious rule, was a well-known playboy, who would drink and carouse with the Americans stationed at Wheelus.

Unfortunately, Gaddafi’s flirtation with the west ended in 1969, when the Americans were given notice and promptly asked to leave Wheelus Air Base. Strangely enough, after finally gaining power and independence, Gaddafi invited the Soviet Union to Wheelus, where they were stationed until the end of the Cold War.

Today, Wheelus Air Base is known as Mitiga International Airport, and is no longer home to any foreign army.

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