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Carter on Failed Iran Hostage Rescue

Carter on Failed Iran Hostage Rescue



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On April 11, 1980, President Jimmy Carter approved a military operation to rescue the remaining 52 American hostages from the hands of young revolutionaries who had seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in November 1979. After the mission ends with eight U.S.servicemen dead and no hostages freed, President Carter discusses the event at a press conference.


The Carter Legacy: What About the Failed Iran Hostage Mission?

"As health concerns for former President Carter mount," Caleb Brown noted recently, "it's nice to be able to look back on his time in the White House and see something remarkably positive." Indeed, our 39th president doesn't remotely merit the bad rap he gets from conservatives and libertarians.

As I wrote a few years back, "at its best, the Carter legacy was one of workaday reforms that made significant improvements in American life: cheaper travel and cheaper goods for the middle class." For loosening controls on oil, trucking, railroads and airlines, he should, Daniel Bier suggests, be thought of as "the Great Deregulator." It's in no small part thanks to him that conservatives can cry in their microbrews over the sorry state of the 2016 Republican field.

So the man from Plains has a lot to be proud of. In the coming months, I hope he'll have the consolation of seeing the record corrected and his historical reputation start to rise.

Judging by his recent press conference announcing his illness, however, Carter shares a widely held misconception about where his presidency went wrong. Asked about his regrets, he answered: "I wish I'd sent one more helicopter to get the hostages and we would have rescued them and I would have been re-elected."

Carter was referring to "Operation Eagle Claw," the aborted Iranian hostage rescue attempt in April 1980. If you're old enough, you probably remember: The operation never got past the initial "Desert One" rendezvous point, due to the mechanical failure of three helicopters, and eight U.S. soldiers were killed during departure when a helicopter collided with a transport plane.

The botched rescue attempt definitely contributed to Carter's defeat. But the mission failed during the "easy" part when you look at what was supposed to come next, it's hard not to think the whole operation would have been the Bay of Pigs meets Black Hawk Down.

Writing in the Air & Space Power Journal in 2006, war gaming professor Charles Tustin Kamps observed that "the things which did cause the mission to abort were probably merciful compared to the greater catastrophe which might have taken place if the scenario had progressed further than the Desert One rendezvous."

"In the realm of military planning there are plans that might work and plans that won't work," Kamps writes, "In the cold light of history it is evident that the plan for Eagle Claw was in the second category." It would have required "the proverbial seven simultaneous miracles" to succeed.

Here's what was supposed to happen, per the Eagle Claw factsheet at the Air Force Historical Support Division website:

[Eagle Claw] called for three USAF MC-130s to carry a 118-man assault force from Masirah Island near Oman in the Persian Gulf to a remote spot 200 miles southeast of Tehran, code-named Desert One. Accompanying the MC-130s were three USAF EC-130s which served as fuel transports.

The MC-130s planned to rendezvous with eight RH-53D helicopters from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz. After refueling and loading the assault team, the helicopters would fly to a location 65 miles from Tehran, where the assault team would go into hiding.

The next night, the team, dependent upon trusted agents, drivers, and translators [provided by the CIA], would be picked up and driven the rest of the way to the embassy compound.

Meanwhile, a separate 13-man team would peel off to attack the Foreign Ministry building and rescue three hostages being held there, as the main Delta group hit the embassy.

After storming the embassy, the team and the freed hostages would rally at either the embassy compound or a nearby soccer stadium to be picked up by the helicopter force. The helicopters would then transport them to Manzariyeh, 35 miles to the south, by that time secured by a team of U.S. Army Rangers.

Once at Manzariyeh USAF C-141 transports would fly the assault team and hostages out of Iran while the Rangers destroyed the remaining equipment (including the helicopters) and prepared for their own aerial departure. An extremely complex operation, Eagle Claw depended on everything going according to plan. Any deviation could cause the entire operation to unravel with possibly tragic consequences.

Just in case things didn't go exactly according to plan, the Delta guys were issued this handy "Farsi Survival Guide" to help them bargain and cajole their way out of the country without blowing their cover. For example, they could try something like: "You Iranians and Moslems are famous for hospitality. For the sake of God, I need your help."

In real life, things started going wrong almost instantly: "Soon after the first MC-130 arrived [at Desert One]&hellipa passenger bus approached on a highway bisecting the landing zone. The advance party was forced to stop the vehicle and detain its 45 passengers. Soon, a fuel truck came down the highway. When it failed to stop, the Americans fired a light anti-tank weapon which set the tanker on fire and lit the surrounding area."

In a riveting 2006 Atlantic article, "The Desert One Debacle," Black Hawk Down author Mark Bowden described the resulting chaos: "Suddenly the night desert flashed as bright as daylight and shook with an explosion. In the near distance, a giant ball of flame rose high into the darkness. One of the Rangers had fired an anti-tank weapon at the fleeing truck, which turned out to have been loaded with fuel. It burned like a miniature sun. So much for slipping quietly into Iran."

Eight copters left the Nimitz two had to turn back en route due to mechanical problems. Of the remaining six that made it through the vicious sandstorms (or "haboobs") on the way to Desert One, another arrived with irreparable hydraulic problems.

The plan called for a minimum of six helicopters down to five, on-scene commander Col. Charles Beckwith had little choice but to cancel the mission. As the force began to evacuate, "tragedy struck. One of the helicopters' rotor blades inadvertently collided with a fuel-laden EC-130. Both aircraft exploded, killing five airmen on the EC-130 and three marines on the RH-53."

Had Beckwith not hit "abort," however, it's easy to imagine that most if not all of the assault force would have been captured or killed and none of the hostages would have made it. Bowden quotes a Delta Force officer who summed it up well: "The only difference between this and the Alamo is that Davy Crockett didn't have to fight his way in."

This, to paraphrase Argo, was the worst bad idea we had.

Wait, scratch that: Actually, the worst idea was the follow-up plan developed by the military after the Desert One debacle.

According to Carter's national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski: "the second plan involved going into the airport at Tehran, taking the airport, shooting up anything in the way, bombing anything that starts interfering, storming the embassy, taking out anybody who's alive after that process and then going back and taking off." Except the hostages had been moved out of the embassy after the first failed attempt, and the commandos would have had to try to find them at remote locations.

Everybody was supposed to reconvene at the Tehran soccer stadium where a C-130, jerry-rigged with rockets so it could take off and land like a V-22 Osprey, would whisk them to safety. You can watch the modified C-130 crash and burn in a test video here (luckily no one was hurt).

The code name for this scheme? "Honey Badger." Yes, the second rescue plan took its moniker from the "tenacious small carnivore" identified by the Guinness Book of World Records as "the most fearless animal in the world," and later the subject of that inescapable 2011 YouTube video&mdashto wit:

The honey badger don't care! It's getting stung like a thousand times. It doesn't give a [expletive deleted]. It's just hungry. It doesn't care about being stung by bees. Nothing can stop the honey badger when it's hungry. What a crazy [expletive deleted]!

(Trigger warning: expletives not deleted in viral video link.)

As Michael Crowley noted in a Time article reporting on the scheme, Honey Badger was likely "a last-resort contingency in case Iran began executing the hostages without provocation"&mdasha desperate measure if all else failed. What's really astounding is that the original plan, Eagle Claw, got the go-ahead in far less desperate circumstances.

Relentless public pressure to "do something!" often leads presidents to do something stupid. The hostage rescue mission was not Jimmy Carter's finest hour. But it could have been much worse.


This was Israel’s plan to go to war with Iran in 2011

Posted On January 28, 2019 18:46:28

For Israel, a simple threat was all the provocation necessary to prepare for war — even if that meant a first strike. After all, Israel did it to great success in the 1967 Six-Day War with Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon.

Times were a lot more tense at this point for Iranian-Israeli relations (if you can picture that). The President of Iran, at the time, was the fiercely anti-Israel Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who infamously associated with the idea of Israel “being wiped off the map” and later described the Holocaust as a “myth.”

Israel doesn’t take kindly to this kind of talk.

Also, Ahmadinejad has the world’s most punchable face.

According to old Israeli spymaster Tamir Pardo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Israel Defence Forces to be ready to launch an attack on Iran with as little as 15 days’ notice. Pardo knew there were only two reasons to give such an order: to actually attack or to make someone take notice that your forces are mobilizing.

“So, if the prime minister tells you to start the countdown, you understand he’s not playing games,” Pardo told Israeli journalist Ilana Dayan.

The attack would have featured a large air force component, as evidenced by the fact that IDF fighter bombers engaged in a massive air exercise shortly after the anticipated order failed to come in. The Israelis would also have used its Jericho missile systems, a “bunker buster” that can be fired from Israel and hit targets throughout the Islamic Republic.

(IDF)

In the end, the Israelis didn’t go through with the attack because Mossad wasn’t 100 percent certain the attack would be legal – or that Netanyahu had the authority to take Israel to war without the approval of Israel’s security cabinet. This wasn’t the first time Netanyahu tried to take Israel on the offensive against Iran under his tenure. The previous head of Mossad and IDF Chief of Staff were also given the same order by Netanyahu.

They also pushed back against pressure from the Prime Minister, convinced he was trying to ignore Israeli law.

More links we like

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Operation Eagle Claw

Plan layout of Desert One, one of the operation bases of Eagle Claw (Creative Commons)

President Jimmy Carter was under a lot of pressure to respond to the crisis and help bring to safety the 52 American citizens held in the Embassy in Tehran. According to The Atlantic, planning, and practice for a rescue mission had been going on in secret for five months, but it had always been regarded as the last resort, potentially because of the negative outcomes of the Vietnam War. The Atlantic also says, "Three times in the past five months, carefully negotiated secret settlements had been ditched by the inscrutable Iranian mullahs, and the administration had been made to look more foolish each time."

During this time, American military commanders -- including General David Jones, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colonel Charlie Beckwith, the creator of Delta Force, the Army’s new, top-secret counterterrorism unit -- refined a plan for a possible rescue mission in an ambitious endeavor that included all four branches of the US armed forces -- the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and the Marines. Training exercises were conducted to evaluate the troops and the equipment to be used. The plan was this: American helicopters and C-130 aircraft would rendezvous on a salt flat -- code-named Desert One and hence the name of the documentary -- which lay 200 miles southeast of Tehran. There, the helicopters would refuel from the C-130s and pick up combat troops. The helicopters would then transport troops to the mountain location from where the actual rescue mission would be launched the following night. Forces were deployed throughout Oman and the Arabian Sea. Operation Eagle Claw officially began on April 24, 1980.


The Desert One Debacle

In April 1980, President Jimmy Carter sent the Army’s Delta Force to bring back fifty-three American citizens held hostage in Iran. Everything went wrong. The fireball in the Iranian desert took the Carter presidency with it.

The meeting began with Jimmy Carter’s announcement: “Gentlemen, I want you to know that I am seriously considering an attempt to rescue the hostages.”

Hamilton Jordan, the White House chief of staff, knew immediately that the president had made a decision. Planning and practice for a rescue mission had been going on in secret for five months, but it had always been regarded as the last resort, and ever since the November 4 embassy takeover, the White House had made every effort to avoid it. As the president launched into a list of detailed questions about how it was to be done, his aides knew he had mentally crossed a line.

From Atlantic Unbound:

Desert Rescue—Multimedia
See an interactive version of this article, with audio, video, photos, maps, and more.

Carter had met the takeover in Iran with tremendous restraint, equating the national interest with the well-being of the fifty-three hostages, and his measured response had elicited a great deal of admiration, both at home and abroad. His approval ratings had doubled in the first month of the crisis. But in the following months, restraint had begun to smell like weakness and indecision. Three times in the past five months, carefully negotiated secret settlements had been ditched by the inscrutable Iranian mullahs, and the administration had been made to look more foolish each time. Approval ratings had nose-dived, and even stalwart friends of the administration were demanding action. Jimmy Carter’s formidable patience was badly strained.

And the mission that had originally seemed so preposterous had gradually come to seem feasible. It was a two-day affair with a great many moving parts and very little room for error—one of the most daring thrusts in U.S. military history. It called for a nighttime rendezvous of helicopters and planes at a landing strip in the desert south of Tehran, where the choppers would refuel before carrying the raiding party to hiding places just outside the city. The whole force would then wait through the following day and assault the embassy compound on the second night, spiriting the hostages to a nearby soccer stadium from which the helicopters could take them to a seized airstrip outside the city, to the transport planes that would carry them to safety and freedom. With spring coming on, the hours of darkness, needed to get the first part of this done, were shrinking fast.

Unrolling a big map, General David Jones, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walked the president and his inner circle of advisers through the elaborate plan, pointing out the location of the initial landing and refueling site, called Desert One the various hide-site locations the embassy, in central Tehran the soccer stadium and the airfield. It was risky but short of leaving the hostages to their fate or engaging in some punitive action against Iran that would further endanger them, the president had few options. Jordan could see the course of Carter’s reluctant reasoning.

To maintain appearances, the president sent Jordan back to Paris for a scheduled second meeting with Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, the Iranian foreign minister, with whom Jordan had secretly worked out the most recent failed agreement. Carter had at last severed all formal diplomatic ties with Iran in this second face-to-face session with Jordan, Ghotbzadeh called the break in relations a tragic mistake that would drive his country into the arms of the Soviets. He also confirmed that peaceful efforts to resolve the crisis were at an impasse, and predicted that it would be many months before the hostages might be released. He was apologetic, but said that for him to take a “soft” position on the issue at that point was tantamount to political, if not actual, suicide. “I just hope your president doesn’t do anything rash,” he added. Ghotbzadeh didn’t know it, but his glum assessment clinched the decision to launch the rescue mission.

Colonel Charlie Beckwith, the creator of Delta Force, the Army’s new, top-secret counterterrorism unit, was summoned to the White House. He and Carter, both proud Georgians, swapped stories about their neighboring home counties. Beckwith, a brave and commanding soldier, was a big, gruff man whose energy filled a room—and he had flaws as outsized as his virtues. He was a difficult man, proud, tough, and at times arrogant and capricious these traits were aggravated when he drank, which was often. But at the White House he was on his best behavior, impressing the president with his aura of blunt certainty as he presented the proposed mission in ever greater detail.

The colonel was an accomplished salesman. He had spent a career selling the idea of his elite unit, and now that it existed, he was eager to show what miracles it could perform. His enthusiasm was infectious. He and his men had been rehearsing the mission for so long that they could have done it in their sleep, and they were going to make history—not just cut this particular Gordian knot but write their names in the annals of military glory. In a sense, Beckwith’s long crusade to create Delta Force had been a rebellion against the mechanization and bureaucratization of modern warfare. He held to an old and visceral conviction: that war was the business of brave men. He loved soldiers and soldiering, and his vision was of a company of men like himself: impatient with rank, rules, and politics, focused entirely on mission. He had created such a force, choosing the best of the best and training them to perfection. They were not just good, they were magnificent. And now he would lead them into battle.

They were nearly ready. Two small teams had already been in and out of Iran to scout the landing site at Desert One, and to find the hide sites and the vehicles that would carry the raiding party to the embassy. Eight RH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters and their crews were waiting below decks on the aircraft carrier Nimitz, which cruised in the Arabian Sea. Staging areas at Wadi Kena, an abandoned Soviet airstrip in Egypt, and on Masirah, an island off the coast of Oman, were being readied to receive Beckwith’s men and planes. Dick Meadows, the leader of the team that had prepared the hide sites, was packing his bags for a return trip to Tehran, where he would wait to meet with the rest of the force on the first night of the mission. Moving everything into position would take about two weeks.

Technically, Carter had not yet given the go-ahead, but when Beckwith left the White House, he was certain he had sold the mission. He flew to Delta’s stockade at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and immediately assembled his top men. “You can’t tell the people you can’t tell anybody,” he said. “Don’t talk about this to anyone. But the president has approved the mission, and we’re going to go on April 24.”

Through the failing light a lone plane moved fast and low over dark waters toward the coast of Iran. It was a big four-propeller U.S. Air Force workhorse, a C-130 Hercules, painted in a mottled black-and-green camouflage that made it all but invisible against the black water and the night sky. It flew with no lights. Inside, in the eerie red glow of the plane’s blackout lamps, seventy-four men struggled to get comfortable in a cramped, unaccommodating space. Only the eleven men of the plane’s usual crew had assigned seats the others sprawled on and around a Jeep, five motorcycles, two long sheets of heavy aluminum (to wedge under the plane’s tires if it became stuck in desert sand), and a bulky portable guidance system that would help the other planes and helicopters find their way to Desert One. Their rendezvous was a flat, empty spot in the Dasht-e-Kavir salt desert, fifty-eight miles from Tabas, the nearest town.

Just after dark, the Hercules moved in over the coast of Iran at 250 feet, well below Iranian radar, and began a gradual ascent to 5,000 feet. It was still flying dangerously low even at that altitude, because the land rose up abruptly in row after row of jagged ridges—the Zagros Mountains, which looked jet black in the gray-green tints of the pilots’ night-vision goggles. Its terrain-hugging radar was so sensitive that even though the plane was safely above the peaks, the highest ridges triggered the loud, disconcerting horn of its warning system. The co-pilot kept one finger over the override button, poised to silence it.

The decision had been made to fly into Iran on fixed-wing transports rather than helicopters, and since then Beckwith had added still more men to “Eagle Claw,” as the rescue mission was now code-named. Most notable among them were a group of soldiers from the 75th Ranger Regiment, out of Fort Benning, Georgia, who would block off both ends of the dirt road that angled through Desert One and man Redeye missile launchers to protect the force on the first night in the event it was discovered and attacked from the air. A separate thirteen-man Army Special Forces team would assault the foreign ministry to free the three diplomats being held there: Bruce Laingen, Victor Tomseth, and Mike Howland. Also on Beckwith’s lead plane was John Carney, an Air Force major from the team that had slipped into Iran weeks earlier to scout the desert landing strip and bury infrared lights to mark a runway. He would command a small Air Force combat-control team that would orchestrate the complex maneuvers at the impromptu airfield.

Some of these men sat on and around the Jeep. The mood was relaxed. If there was one trait these men shared, it was professional calm.

They had taken off at dusk from the tiny island of Masirah. An hour behind them would come five more C-130s—one of them carrying most of the remainder of Beckwith’s assault force, which now numbered 132 men three serving as “bladder planes,” each one’s hold occupied by two gigantic rubber balloons filled with fuel and a back-up fuel plane carrying the last Deltas and pieces of sophisticated telecommunications-monitoring equipment.

Days earlier the entire force had flown from Florida to Egypt on big Army jet transports. His mission under way, Beckwith had been wound tight, at once anxious and arrogant. To the pilot’s question “Where are we going?” he’d answered, “Just shut up and fly, and I’ll tell you when to stop.” They spent a few days at Wadi Kena, which had been amply outfitted for their arrival, with two refrigerators and pallets full of beer and soda. When the refrigerators were finally emptied of beer, they were stocked with blood.

On the morning of the mission, the men had assembled in a warehouse, where Major Jerry Boykin had offered a prayer. Tall and lean, with a long, dark beard, Boykin stood at a podium before a plug box where electrical wires intersected and formed a big cross on the wall. Behind him was a poster-sized sheet displaying photographs of the Americans held hostage. Boykin chose a passage from the first Book of Samuel:

They had flown from Wadi Kena to Masirah, where they had hunkered in tents through a bright and broiling afternoon, fighting off large stinging flies and waiting impatiently for dusk. They would make a four-hour flight over the Gulf of Oman and across Iran to Desert One. The route had been calculated to exploit gaps in Iran’s coastal defenses, and to avoid passing over military bases and populated areas. Major Wayne Long, Delta’s intelligence officer, was at a console in the telecommunications plane with a National Security Agency linguist, who was monitoring Iranian telecommunications for any sign that the aircraft had been discovered and the mission compromised. None came.

Not long after the lead plane departed Masirah, eight Sea Stallions left the Nimitz and moved out over the gulf in order to make landfall shortly after sunset. The choppers took their own route, crossing into Iran between the towns of Jask and Konarak, and flying even closer to the ground than the planes. Word of the successful helicopter launch—“Eight off the deck”—reached those in the lead plane as especially welcome news, because they had expected only seven. Earlier reports had indicated that the eighth was having mechanical problems. Eight widened the margin of error.

The men expected breakdowns. In their many rehearsals, they had determined that six choppers were essential for carrying all the men and equipment from Desert One to the hide sites. The load was finely calibrated every assaulter had an assigned limit and was weighed to make sure he met it. Not all six choppers would be needed to haul the hostages and assaulters from the stadium the next night (two would do in a pinch), but some of the aircraft that made it to the hideouts were expected to fail the next morning. If seven were enough, eight provided comfort.

The final decision to launch had come earlier that day, after Dick Meadows, Delta’s advance man, broadcast a signal from Tehran that all was ready. He had returned to the city disguised as an Irish businessman, and had met up with “Fred,” his Iranian-American guide and interpreter, and with two U.S. soldiers who had themselves entered Iran as Irish and West German businessmen. They had spent that day reconnoitering all of the various hide sites, the embassy, the foreign ministry, and the soccer stadium.

As the lead plane pushed on into Iran, Major Bucky Burruss, Beckwith’s deputy, was on the second C-130, sprawled on a mattress near the front of the plane. Burruss was still somewhat startled to find himself on the actual mission, although there was still no telling if they were really going to go through with it. One thing President Carter had insisted on was the option of calling off the raid right up to the last minute: right before they were to storm the embassy walls. To make sure they could get real-time instructions from Washington, a satellite radio and relay system had been put in place at Wadi Kena.

Another presidential directive concerned the use of nonlethal riot-control agents. Given that the shah’s occasionally violent riot control during the revolution was now Exhibit A in Iran’s human-rights case against the former regime and America, Carter wanted to avoid killing Iranians, so he had insisted that if a hostile crowd formed during the raid, Delta should attempt to control it without shooting people. Burruss considered this ridiculous. He and his men were going to assault a guarded compound in the middle of a city of more than 5 million people, most of them presumed to be aggressively hostile. It was unbelievably risky everyone on the mission knew there was a very good chance they would not get home alive. Wade Ishmoto, a Delta captain who worked with the unit’s intelligence division, had joked, “The only difference between this and the Alamo is that Davy Crockett didn’t have to fight his way in.” And Carter had the idea that this vastly outnumbered force was first going to try holding off the city with nonviolent crowd control? Burruss understood the president’s thinking on this, but with their hides so nakedly on the line, shouldn’t they be free to decide how best to defend themselves? He had complained about the directive to General Jones, who had said he would look into it, but the answer had come back “No, the president insists.” So Burruss had made his own peace with it. He had with him one tear-gas grenade—one—which he intended to throw as soon as necessary he would then use its smoke as a marker to call in devastatingly lethal 40 mm AC-130 gunship fire.

Delta was made up of men who would have felt crushed to be excluded from this mission. They were ambitious for glory. They had volunteered to serve with Beckwith and had undergone the trials of a grueling selection process precisely to serve in improbable exploits like this. Some of the men had read about wildly heroic feats in history and longed to have taken part here was such a moment. If they pulled it off, it would go down as one of the boldest maneuvers in military history. They would snatch the innocent Americans from the jaws of the Islamist dragon. Their nation would cheer them in the streets!

The fact that people wouldn’t know exactly whom they were toasting made it all the more appealing. The heroism would be pure. They as individuals would not be celebrated—only their achievement. None of these men would be in ticker-tape parades, or sitting down for interviews on national TV, or having their pictures on the covers of magazines, or cashing in on fat book contracts. They were quiet professionals. In a world of brag and hype, they embodied substance. They would come home and, after a few days off, go right back to work. Of course, within their own world they would not just be respected they would be legends. For the rest of their lives, knowing soldiers would murmur, “He was on Eagle Claw.”

They were a motley, deliberately unmilitary-looking bunch of young men. In fact, they looked a lot like the students who had seized the embassy. Most were just a few years older than the hostage-takers. They had long hair and had grown moustaches and beards, or at least gone unshaven. Many of those with fair hair had dyed it dark brown or black, figuring that might nudge the odds at least slightly in their favor if they were forced to fight their way out of Iran. The loose-fitting, many-pocketed field jackets they wore, also dyed black, were just like the ones favored by young men in Iran. Under the Geneva Conventions, soldiers (as opposed to spies) must enter combat in uniform, so for the occasion the men all wore matching black knit caps and on their jacket sleeves had American flags that could be covered by small black Velcro patches. On the streets of Tehran the flags would invite trouble, but inside the embassy compound they would reassure the hostages that they weren’t just being kidnapped by some rival Iranian faction. The men wore faded blue jeans and combat boots, and beneath their jackets some wore armored vests. Much of their gear was improvised. They had sewn additional pockets inside the jackets to carry weapons, ammo, and water. Most of the men carried sidearms, grenades, small MP-5 submachine guns with silencers, and various explosive devices.

Beckwith had insisted on a Ranger tradition: each man carried clips and a length of rope wrapped around his waist, in case the need arose to rappel. With his white stubble, dangling cigarette or cigar, and wild eyes under thick dark eyebrows, Beckwith himself looked like a dangerous vagrant. Before leaving Masirah, the men had joked about which actors would portray them in the movie version of the raid, and they decided that the hillbilly actor Slim Pickens, who in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove had ridden a nuclear weapon down into doomsday waving his cowboy hat and hallooing, would be the perfect choice for the colonel.

As the lead plane closed in on the landing site, its pilots noted curious milky patches in the night sky. They flew through one that appeared to be just haze, not even substantial enough to interfere with the downward-looking radar. They approached a second one as they got closer to the landing site. John Carney, who had come into the cockpit to be ready to activate the landing lights he had buried on his trip weeks earlier, was asked, “What do you make of that stuff out there?”

He looked through the co-pilot’s window and answered, “You’re in a haboob.”

The men in the cockpit laughed at the word.

“No, we’re flying through suspended dust,” Carney explained. “The Iranians call it a haboob.”

He had learned this from the CIA pilots who had flown him in earlier. Shifting air pressure sometimes forced especially fine desert sand straight up thousands of feet, where it hung like a vertical cloud for hours. It was just a desert curiosity, nothing that could cause a problem for the planes. But Air Force Colonel James H. Kyle, whose responsibility included all airborne aspects of the mission, knew that the haboob would be trouble for a helicopter. He had noticed that the temperature inside the plane went up significantly when they passed through the first haboob. He conferred with the plane’s crew, and suggested they break radio silence and call “Red Barn,” the command center at Wadi Kena, to warn the helicopter formation behind them. The chopper pilots might want to break formation or fly higher to avoid the stuff. It took the lead plane about thirty minutes to fly through this second patch, indicating that it extended about a hundred miles.

As the C-130 approached the landing area, Carney activated his runway lights, but just then the plane’s newfangled FLIR (forward-looking infrared radar) detected something moving, which proved to be a truck hurtling along the dirt road that ran through the landing site. The pilots passed over the spot and then circled back around. On the second pass the stretch of desert was clear. They circled around for the third time and touched down—Logan Fitch, a tall Texan and one of Delta’s squadron leaders, was amazed by how smoothly. The plane coasted to a stop, and when the back ramp was lowered, the Rangers roared off in the Jeep and on a motorcycle to give chase to the truck. Word that an American plane had landed in the desert, relayed promptly to the right people, could defeat the whole effort.

The hard-packed surface of three weeks prior was now coated with a layer of sand the consistency of baby powder—ankle-deep in some places—that accounted for the extraordinary softness of their landing. This fine sand made it more difficult to taxi the plane, and the backwash from the propellers kicked up a serious dust storm.

Fitch followed with his men, walking down the ramp and stepping into a cauldron of noise and dust. His team had nothing to do at Desert One except wait to offload camouflage netting and other equipment from the second C-130 when it arrived, then board helicopters for the short trip to the hiding places. The big plane’s propellers were still roaring and kicking up sand. Shielding his eyes with an upraised arm, Fitch turned to his right and was shocked to see, coming straight toward him, a bus! Literally out of nowhere. The odds that the plane would encounter one vehicle at midnight on such an isolated desert road were vanishingly small, but there it was, honoring an absolute law of military operations: the inevitability of the unexpected. This second vehicle was a big Mercedes passenger bus, piled high with luggage, lit up like midday inside, and filled with more than forty astonished Iranian passengers.

Suddenly the night desert flashed as bright as daylight and shook with an explosion. In the near distance, a giant ball of flame rose high into the darkness. One of the Rangers had fired an anti-tank weapon at the fleeing truck, which turned out to have been loaded with fuel. It burned like a miniature sun. So much for slipping quietly into Iran. This clandestine rendezvous spot, this patch of desert in the middle of nowhere, was lit up like a Friday-night football game in Texas. The men with night-vision goggles removed them. At least one of the truck’s occupants had bailed out, climbed into a trailing pickup truck (three vehicles!), and escaped at high speed. A Ranger gave chase on the motorcycle but couldn’t catch up.

In this sudden glow the bus now rolled to a stop with a leaking radiator and a flat right-front tire. Rangers had fired their weapons to disable it. Fitch, still confused, sent Delta machine-gun teams to both sides of the stalled, steaming vehicle, and led a group of his men to the front. Some Rangers were already aboard.

Fitch mounted the steps and asked a Ranger sergeant, “What the hell is going on?”

“I’m trying to get these people off the bus, but they won’t move,” the sergeant said. The passengers were clearly bewildered. “Should I fire a shot over their heads?” he asked.

“No,” Fitch said. “Why don’t you just get off the bus, and I’ll get my people in here.”

One of Delta’s specialties was handling hostages—herding them, searching them, securing them. In the next few minutes, Fitch’s men firmly and efficiently emptied the bus and searched the passengers for weapons. They then stripped the baggage off the top of the bus and searched it, finding no weapons. The passengers appeared to be poor Iranians, simply traveling through the night from Yazd to Tabas. The bus was decorated with placards and posters of the Ayatollah Khomeini. It had rolled into the wrong place at the wrong time.

The question of what to do with the passengers was relayed all the way to the White House. The president and his staff were deliberately going through the late-afternoon motions of a typical workday but secretly hanging on every update from the desert.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national-security adviser, relayed the unexpected problem of the bus to the president, and Carter agreed that the only thing to do was to fly all the Iranians out that night on one of the C-130s and then return them to Iran when the mission was complete.

Shortly after midnight things grew louder and busier as the second C-130 roared in for a landing, right on schedule, and taxied to a stop. Behind it were the three fuel tankers and the communications plane. As Burruss and his men came down the lowered ramp of their plane, they gaped at the ball of flame, the bus, and the passengers sitting on the sand.

“Welcome to World War Three!” Fitch greeted them.

Desert One was now looking more like an airport, and Carney’s men were busy directing traffic, preparing for the arrival of the helicopters. Within the hour, all three C-130 bladder planes were positioned and parked, along with the communications plane. The first two C-130s would return to Masirah before the arrival of the helicopters, clearing space at the landing site.

The unloading had gone pretty much as planned, with one exception: the second C-130 had landed a few thousand feet farther away from the landing zone than expected, so the job of transferring the camouflage netting from it to the choppers was correspondingly bigger. The netting would be draped over the helicopters at their hiding places at daylight. It was not an especially warm night in the desert, but all the men were overdressed in layers of clothing, and they were sweating heavily with exertion. Moving through the loose sand made the task even more difficult. The Air Force crews struggled to unfurl hundreds of pounds of hoses from the parked tankers, for fueling the choppers. The bus would have to be moved, so all the passengers were herded back on.

“What is the status of the choppers?” Beckwith asked over a secure satellite radio.

The command station at Wadi Kena responded by relaying a request from the lead chopper for conditions at Desert One.

“Visibility five miles with negative surface winds,” reported Colonel Kyle, who was with Beckwith.

Then they heard from the lead chopper, which had a secure satellite radio similar to Beckwith’s at Desert One: “Fifty minutes out and low on fuel.”

The fuel crews were poised. They were capable of working like pit crews at the Indy 500. It would take only ten minutes to refill a landed chopper and send it on its way, but everything was behind schedule, which meant that even if the refueling and loading were done perfectly, the choppers would not get to their hiding places before dawn. That posed only a small risk, as the sites were in mountains outside the city, the choppers had been painted the same colors as the Iranian army’s helicopters, and it would still be fairly dark when they arrived. Still, if they didn’t land at Desert One soon, they would be getting to their hiding places in broad daylight.

There was nothing to do but wait. Most of the force had been on the ground for more than two hours. Stirred by the idling aircraft, sand whipped around the men, stinging their faces and making it difficult to see. The choppers were late and getting later. But they had been late in every one of the rehearsals, so no one was surprised.

Already, the Sea Stallions were down to six.

The original formation of eight had crossed into Iran flying at 200 feet and then moved down to 100 feet. Two of the choppers were having difficulty with their navigation equipment, but flying that close to the ground they could steer by using landmarks and by staying with the formation. They were not allowed to communicate over their non-secure radios, lest they be overheard by Iranian defenses, but they had practiced flashing lights as signals. They flew in a staggered line of four pairs. Not far inside Iran, the helicopter crews spotted part of the trailing formation of C-130s, which confirmed that the Sea Stallions were going the right way. Lieutenant Colonel Ed Seiffert, the flight leader and pilot of the first chopper, felt relaxed enough to take a break and have something to eat.

But the formation got only 140 miles into Iran before one of the choppers had trouble. In the cockpit of the sixth one in formation a warning light indicated that one of its blades had been hit by something or had cracked—a potentially fatal problem. That chopper immediately landed, followed by the one just behind it, and after determining that a rotor blade was in fact badly cracked, the pilots abandoned the damaged aircraft, removing all the classified documents inside, and climbed into chopper No. 8. It lifted off, gave chase, and eventually caught up with the others.

As they burned off fuel, the choppers picked up speed. They were closing in on Desert One. About 200 miles into Iran they saw before them what looked like a wall of whiteness: the first haboob. They flew right into it. Seiffert realized that it was suspended dust only when he tasted it and felt it in his teeth. If it was penetrating his cockpit, it was penetrating his engines. The temperature inside rose to 100 degrees. But then they were out of the cloud as suddenly as they had entered it. They had flown right through it.

Looming ahead was the second, much larger haboob, but Seiffert didn’t know that. No warning from the lead C-130 had been relayed the need to maintain radio silence, and to communicate in code if it was broken, had ultimately led Kyle to decide against making a report.

So the chopper formation passed into the second cloud assuming that it was no bigger than the first. But the haboob grew thicker and thicker, until Seiffert could no longer see the other choppers or the ground. The helicopters had turned on their outside safety lights, and off in the haze indistinct halos of red were strung out at varying distances. When the fuzzy beacons also vanished, Seiffert and his wingman made a U-turn, flew back out of the cloud, and landed. None of the other five choppers had seen them land. Seiffert had hoped they would all follow him to the ground, where they could confer and decide on a strategy. Now he and his wingman had no choice but to take off and fly back into the soup, trying to catch up.

Major Jim Schaefer was now flying lead. One moment Seiffert’s aircraft had been in front of him, and the next it was gone. One by one the indistinct red blobs in the milky haze had grown dimmer and dimmer, and then they, too, were gone. How could I lose them? Schaefer thought. He could see nothing, and he heard nothing but the sounds of his own engines. All around him was a smothering cloak of whiteness. He executed a “lost plane” maneuver, turning fifteen degrees off course for a few minutes, and then turning back on course, hoping to pick up the formation again. Even from as low as 200 feet, he could not see the ground.

He climbed to 1,000 feet and was still in the cloud. Inside the chopper it was hot and getting hotter. He descended, this time below 200 feet. Schaefer could see the ground only intermittently. For three hours they flew like this, on nerves and instruments. The cockpit was overheated, and the men in it were increasingly tense.

“Is there anything in front of us?” Schaefer asked his co-pilot, Les Petty.

“Well, there’s a six-thousand-foot mountain in front of us,” Petty replied.

“I don’t trust the machine,” Petty said, “and I don’t trust my map. I ain’t seen the ground in three hours. I’d say right now.”

So they started to climb. They climbed to 6,000 feet, and abruptly the dust cloud broke. Inside the chopper it was suddenly very cold. Off to one side Schaefer saw the peak of a mountain.

“Good job, Les,” he said. “I love you.”

Desert One was still about an hour away, so they plunged back into the haboob. This time Schaefer leveled off at 600 feet. He didn’t know it, but the remaining six choppers were doing the same. The lack of visibility had made all the crews woozy. It was especially hard on the pilots, whose night-vision goggles distorted depth perception and intensified feelings of vertigo. The men were becoming thirsty in the extreme heat. They knew that more tall peaks lay between them and Desert One, and they could only hope that visibility improved in time for them to steer around or over them.

It was a struggle for all of them, and finally one pilot gave up. Lieutenant Commander Rodney Davis had watched the control lights in his cockpit indicate a number of equipment failures. His compass was not working, and his other navigation devices were being affected by the heat. His co-pilot was feeling sick. When he lost sight of the nearest chopper, Davis was alone in the haboob. He tried spiraling downward, a maneuver for relocating his wingman, but he couldn’t see the other chopper and couldn’t get a clear fix on anything below that would give him his exact position. Davis took his aircraft up to 9,000 feet and was still in the cloud. He was at a critical point in the flight. To press on meant he’d have no chance of making it back to the carrier, for lack of fuel. Because he couldn’t see ahead or down, he might steer off course or collide with a mountain on the way to Desert One. He conferred with Colonel Chuck Pitman, the ranking officer of the entire formation, who was riding in back. They assumed that with the other seven choppers still en route (they did not know that one had already been lost), they would not fatally compromise the mission by turning back.

At the landing strip, Delta Force waited anxiously as precious minutes of darkness continued to slip away. It was an enormous relief when the men heard the distinctive whoop-whoop-whoop of the first two helicopters.

Schaefer, in the lead chopper, saw a giant pillar of flame, and his first thought was that one of the C-130s had crashed and exploded. He flew over Desert One and counted four planes on the ground, exactly what he expected to find. Thank you, Lord, he said to himself.

He turned to land on a second pass, and as he came down he clipped a rut so hard that he knew he had damaged his aircraft. The tires on his landing gear were blown and knocked off the rims. He had been in the air for five hours. He was tired and relieved and had to piss. Like the planes, the choppers kept their engines running to lower the risk of a mechanical failure most problems showed up after stopping and restarting. Schaefer and most of his crew got out and walked around behind their chopper to urinate, and there Schaefer was confronted by the eager Beckwith, trailed by Burruss, Kyle, and the other commanders.

“What the hell’s going on?” the colonel asked. “How did you get so goddamn late?”

“First of all, we’re only twenty-five minutes late,” Schaefer said. “Second of all, I don’t know where anyone else is, because we went into a big dust cloud.”

“There’s no goddamn dust cloud out here,” Beckwith said, gesturing at the open sky. He had not been told about the haboobs on the way in.

“Well, there is one,” Schaefer said. He told Beckwith that the conditions coming in had been the worst he had ever flown through. His men were badly shaken. His chopper still flew but had been damaged. He wasn’t sure they could go on.

This was not what Beckwith wanted to hear.

“I’m going to report this thing,” he said angrily. He thought the pilot looked shattered, as if the pressure had completely broken him down. He slapped Schaefer on the back and told him that he and the others were going to have to suck it up.

Two more choppers arrived, and one of them was having a problem. Captain B. J. McGuire’s helicopter had been flying with a warning light on in the cockpit that indicated trouble with one of the hydraulic systems. Fitch was the first person to reach McGuire on landing.

“I’m so happy you are here!” Fitch said, shouting to be heard. “Where are the rest of the guys?”

“I don’t know,” McGuire said. “We don’t have any communication.”

McGuire told Fitch about the problem with his helicopter. He said he thought the working hydraulic system was sufficiently trustworthy for him to continue.

When the last two choppers finally landed, it was cause for quiet celebration. It was now 1:30 in the morning, which gave the men just enough time to get everything done and hidden before full daylight. They had the required six helicopters. Some members of the assault force exchanged high fives. Seiffert soon had his pilots maneuvering their empty choppers into position behind the four tankers to refuel. Their wheels made deep tracks in the fine sand, and the turning rotors whipped up violent dust storms. The rotors and propellers were deafening, and all around the aircraft were fierce little sand squalls. The truck fire was still burning brightly.

Beckwith, impatient to get his men aboard the choppers and be off, climbed into the last one to land and tried to get the attention of Seiffert, who was coordinating these maneuvers from his cockpit.

“Request permission to load, Skipper,” Beckwith said. “We need to get with it.”

Seiffert either didn’t hear him or ignored him. “Hey, remember me?” Beckwith asked. He then slapped the pilot’s helmet. Seiffert took off his helmet and confronted Beckwith angrily.

“I can’t guarantee we’ll get you to the next site before first light.”

“I don’t care,” Beckwith said.

Seiffert told him to go ahead and load his men.

Beckwith was moving from chopper to chopper, urging things forward, when another of the helicopter pilots stepped out and said, “The skipper told me to tell you we only have five flyable helicopters. That’s what the skipper told me to tell you.”

Looking around, the colonel could see that the rotor on one of the Sea Stallions had stopped turning. Someone had shut it down.

It was precisely what he had feared: these pilots were determined to scuttle his mission. It had not been lost on the other commanders, most of whom outranked Beckwith, that the pugnacious colonel regarded them all as inferiors, as supporting players. The pilots, the navigators, the air crews, the fuel-equipment operators, the Rangers, the combat controllers, the spies in Tehran, even the generals back at Wadi Kena—they were all ordinary mortals, squires, spear carriers, water boys. Their job was to serve Delta, to get the colonel and his magnificent men into place for their rendezvous with destiny. All along, Beckwith had been impatient with and suspicious of the other services and units involved in his eyes, they all lacked experience, nerve, and skill. So now, when things began to go sour, Beckwith felt not just disappointment and anger but contempt.

When he found Kyle, he bellowed, “That goddamn number-two helo has been shut down! We only have five good choppers. You’ve got to talk to Seiffert and see what he says. You talk their language—I don’t.” Beckwith didn’t see mechanical problems with the helicopters he saw faltering courage in the men who flew them. He said as much to Kyle, grumbling that the pilots were looking for excuses not to go.

The comment burned the Air Force officer, who had been contending with Beckwith for months. He knew better than to argue with him. The chopper captains had the same kind of responsibilities that Beckwith had, and they were responsible for getting their own crews in and out safely. No one knew their machines better than they did, because they literally bet their lives on them every time they flew.

Seiffert had made his decision. One of the hydraulic pumps on McGuire’s chopper was shot, and they had no way to fix it. Kyle asked if it would be possible to fly using just the remaining pump, and Seiffert told him emphatically, “No! It’s unsafe! If the controls lock up, it becomes uncontrollable. It’s grounded!”

When Fitch returned from rounding up the rest of his men, he was surprised to find that his second-in-command, Captain E. K. Smith, was still waiting with his squadron in the dust. He told Smith to get the men on the choppers.

“The mission is an abort,” Smith said.

“What do you mean, it’s an abort?”

“Colonel Beckwith said it’s an abort,” Smith said. He explained that McGuire’s chopper couldn’t fly. This contradicted what Fitch had heard from McGuire—that the chopper was damaged but flyable. Fitch knew his commander was such a hothead that it was entirely possible Beckwith had said something like that knowing only half the story.

“E.K., I’m not doubting your word, but I’m going to see Beckwith about this,” he said.

The abort scenario, which they had rehearsed, called for Fitch and his men to board not the helicopters but one of the tankers. The choppers would fly back to the carrier, and the planes would return to Masirah. Fitch told Smith to prepare the men to board the plane, but said they should wait until he returned.

Finding Colonel Beckwith in the noise and swirling dust wasn’t easy one of the things the plan lacked was a clearly defined rallying point, or command center. So it took some wandering, but Fitch eventually found Beckwith, Burruss, Kyle, and the other mission commanders huddled outside one of the C-130s with a secure satellite radio.

“What’s going on?” he shouted over the din.

“Well, Seiffert said that helicopter can’t fly—that it’s not mission capable—and we’re down to five,” Beckwith said, disgusted.

Kyle and the chopper crews said they were ready to proceed with five helicopters, but that would require trimming the assault force by twenty men. Beckwith refused. “We all go or nobody goes,” he said. The question was passed up the chain to Washington, where Secretary of Defense Harold Brown relayed the situation to Brzezinski in the White House. The national-security adviser, who only minutes earlier had been told that all six choppers were refueling and that the mission was proceeding as planned, was stunned. He quickly assessed what he knew, and engaged in a little wishful thinking. He imagined Beckwith, who had been so gung-ho in his visit to the White House, fuming in the desert, eager to proceed but stymied by more-cautious generals in the rear. So he directed Brown to tell the commanders on the ground that if they were prepared to go ahead with only five choppers, they had White House approval. He then left to find Carter.

In the din of Desert One the mission commanders received Brzezinski’s message and reconsidered. It angered Beckwith to even be asked he felt his judgment and commitment were being questioned. Nevertheless, he said, “Can we make it with fewer aircraft?”

“Sir, we have been through this in rehearsals,” Fitch said. “Who are we going to leave behind?”

Some felt that they could trim the package and proceed. Shortly before lifting off on the mission, they had received new and reliable intelligence about the location of the hostages in the embassy compound, which would eliminate the need for some of the searching they had planned to do. Perhaps they could do it with fewer men.

But Beckwith was more cautious. Which men would they leave behind? If they left the interpreters, who would talk them past the roadblocks in the city? If they got five choppers to the hide sites, how likely was it that all five would restart the next day? If one or two failed to start, and another got hit—likely scenarios that had been built into the plan—how were they going to airlift out all the hostages and Beckwith’s men? The plan was finely wrought, with such a delicate balance between risk and opportunity that asking Beckwith to omit any piece was too much. It meant shifting the odds too greatly against his men and his beautiful creation, which he was not prepared to do. That was the conclusion the mission planners had reached in advance, after calm, careful deliberation. These automatic-abort scenarios had been predetermined precisely to avoid life-and-death decisions at the last minute. This was clearly an abort situation. On the mission schedule, just after the line “less than six helos,” was the word “ABORT,” and it was the only word on the page in capital letters.

“I need every man I’ve got and every piece of gear,” Beckwith said finally. “There’s no fat I can cut out.”

The decision was relayed to Wadi Kena and to Washington, where Brzezinski broke the news of the setback to Carter. Standing in a corridor between the Oval Office and the president’s study, Carter muttered, “Damn. Damn.”

He and Brzezinski were soon joined by a larger group of advisers, including Walter Mondale, Hamilton Jordan, Warren Christopher, and Jody Powell. Standing behind his desk, his sleeves rolled up and hands on his hips, the president told them, “I’ve got some bad news … I had to abort the rescue mission … Two of our helicopters never reached Desert One. That left us six. The Delta team was boarding the six helicopters when they found out that one of them had a mechanical problem and couldn’t go on.”

“What did Beckwith think?” Jordan asked.

Carter explained that they had consulted with Beckwith, and that the decision had been unanimous.

“At least there were no American casualties and no innocent Iranians hurt,” Carter said.

At Desert One there wasn’t time to dwell on the abort decision. Fitch directed his men to board one of the fuel planes. They piled in on top of the nearly emptied fuel bladders, which rippled like a giant black water bed. Everyone was weary and disappointed. Delta officer Eric Haney stripped off his gear and his black field jacket, balling it up behind him to form a cushion against the hard metal angles of the plane’s inner wall. He and some of the other men wedged their weapons snugly between the bladder and the wall of the plane to keep them secure and out of the way. Some of the men immediately fell asleep.

“We’re all set—let’s go,” Fitch told the plane’s crew chief.

Just behind their tanker, a combat controller in goggles, one of Carney’s crew, appeared outside the cockpit of Major Schaefer’s chopper and informed the pilot that he had to move his aircraft out of the way. Schaefer had refueled behind that tanker, and he now had enough fuel to fly back to the Nimitz, but first the C-130s needed to get off the ground.

So Schaefer lifted the front end of his craft. His crew chief hopped out to straighten the nose wheels, which had been bent sideways when they landed. Straightened, they could be retracted so that they wouldn’t cause drag in flight. The crew chief climbed back in, and Schaefer lifted the chopper to a hover at about fifteen feet and held it, kicking up an intense storm of dust that whipped around the combat controller on the ground. The combat controller was the only thing Schaefer could see below, a hazy black image in a cloud of brown, so the pilot fixed on him as a point of reference.

To escape the cloud created by Schaefer’s rotors, the combat controller retreated toward the wing of the parked C-130. Concentrating on his own aircraft, Schaefer didn’t notice that his blurry reference point on the ground had moved. He kept the nose of his blinded chopper pointed at the man below, and as the combat controller moved, the helicopter turned in the same direction, drifting to a point almost directly above the plane.

“How much power do we have, Les?” Schaefer asked, performing his usual checklist.

“Ninety-four percent,” Petty said.

Then Schaefer heard and felt a loud, strong, metallic whack! It sounded like someone had hit the side of his aircraft with a large aluminum bat. Others heard a cracking sound as loud as an explosion, but somehow sharper-edged, more piercing and particular, like the shearing impact of giant industrial tools. The Marine pilot’s rotors had clipped the top of the plane, metal violently smashing into metal in a wild spray of sparks, and instantly the helicopter lost all aerodynamics, was wrenched forward by the collision, its cushion of air whipped out from beneath, and it fell with a grinding bang into the C-130’s cockpit, an impact so stunning that Schaefer briefly blacked out. Both aircraft were carrying a lot of fuel—Shaefer had just filled his tanks, and the C-130 still had fuel in the bladder in its rear. And the sparks from the collision immediately ignited both of them with a powerful, lung-emptying thump that seemed to suck all the air out of the desert. A huge blue ball of fire formed around the front of the C-130, and a pillar of white flame rocketed 300 feet or more into the sky, turning the scene once more from night into day.

Beckwith pivoted the moment he felt and heard the crash, and started running toward it. He pulled up short, a football field away, stopped by the intense heat, and thought with despair of his men: Fitch’s entire troop, trapped.

Inside the C-130, Fitch had felt the plane begin to shudder, as though the pilots were revving the engines for takeoff. The hold had no windows, and he couldn’t tell if they were moving yet. Then he heard two loud, dull thunks. He thought maybe the nose gear or the landing gear had hit a rock, but when he looked toward the front of the aircraft he saw flames and sparks. He thought they were under attack.

He had removed his rucksack, and leaning against it was his weapon, an M203 grenade launcher. He grabbed it and stood, in a single motion. Beside him the plane’s load master, responding wordlessly to the same sight, pulled open the troop door on the port side of the plane. It revealed a solid wall of flame. Fitch helped the load master slam the door down and push the handle in to lock it. He and the men were perched on a thousand gallons of fuel, and they appeared to be caught in an inferno.

“Open the ramp!” Fitch shouted, but lowering it revealed more flames. The plane was going to explode. It was an enormous bomb on a short fuse, and the fuse was lit. The only other way out was the starboard troop door, which had been calmly opened by three of the plane’s crewmen. That way proved blessedly free of flames. Men started piling out of it before it was completely open.

Still inside, Sergeant Major Dave Cheney, a bull of a man with a big deep voice, kept shouting, “Don’t panic! Don’t panic!” as the men crowded toward the only escape. Flames were spreading fast along the roof, wrapping down the walls on both sides, and igniting in each man a primitive flight instinct that none of them could control. One of the junior Air Force crewmen fell and was being trampled by fleeing Deltas when Technical Sergeant Ken Bancroft fought his way to the man, picked him up, and carried him to the doorway and out. Cheney’s natural authority and clarity helped prevent an utterly mad scramble, and kept the men in a steady flow out the door. They were used to filing out this way on parachute jumps, so the line moved fast. Still, it was torture for the men at the rear.

Ray Doyle, a load master on one of the other tankers, more than a hundred feet away, was knocked over by the force of the initial explosion. Jessie Rowe, a crewman on another tanker, felt his plane shake and the temperature of the air suddenly shoot up. Burruss saw the plane erupt as he stepped off the back of his C-130. He was carrying incendiary explosives down the ramp, to destroy the disabled Sea Stallion, and the sight buckled him. He sat down and watched the tower of flame engulfing the plane, the downed chopper perched on top of it like a giant metal dragonfly, thinking, Man, Fitch and his whole squadron gone, those poor bastards. But then he saw men running from the fireball.

Pilots of the other craft quickly spread the word to their crews that they had not been attacked.

Haney was still inside the burning plane, near the end of the line of men trying to get out. He and those around him had been jarred alert by the noise and impact of the crash, and Haney had seen blue sparks overhead toward the front. Then the galley door at the front of the plane blew in, and flames blasted in behind it. “Haul ass!” shouted the man next to him, leaping to his feet.

Captain E. K. Smith, who had dozed off right after boarding the plane, woke up to see men trying to gain their footing on the shifting surface of the fuel bladder and thought it was amusing—until he saw the flames. He and the men around him scrambled toward the door as best they could, fearing they would never outrace the flames. Ahead, men were jammed in the doorway. When Haney finally reached the door, he threw himself out, dropping down hard on the man who had jumped before him. They picked themselves up and ran until they were about fifty yards away. Then they turned to watch with horror.

Fitch felt it was his duty to stay in the plane until all the men were off, but it was hard. As the flames rapidly advanced, he realized that not everyone was going to make it. Instinct finally won out, and both he and Cheney leaped out the door, falling when they hit the ground. Other men crashed on top of them. They helped one another up and over to where the others were now watching, brightly illuminated by the growing fire.

Fitch ran to what seemed a safe distance and then turned around, still assuming they were under attack, and lifted his weapon. He looked for the enemy and saw instead the awesome and ugly sight: the chopper, its rotors still turning, had clearly crashed down on the front of the plane. It wasn’t an attack it was an accident.

He saw two more men jump out—one of them Staff Sergeant Joe Beyers, the plane’s radio operator, whose flight suit was burning. Other men rushed to put out the flames and drag him clear. Then ammunition started “cooking off,” all the grenades, missiles, explosives, and rifle rounds on both aircraft, causing loud, cracking explosions and throwing flames and light. The Redeye missiles went off, drawing smoke trails high into the sky. Finally the fuel bladders ignited, sending a huge pillar of flame skyward in a loud explosion that buckled the fuselage. All four propellers dropped straight down into the sand and stuck there, as if somebody had planted them.

In the chopper, Schaefer at last came to. He was sitting crooked in his seat, the chopper was listing to one side, and flames engulfed the cockpit.

“What’s wrong, Les, what’s wrong?” he asked, turning to his co-pilot. But Petty was already gone. He had jumped out the window on his side.

Schaefer shut down the engines and sat for a moment, certain he was about to die. Then, for some reason, an image came into his mind of his fiancée’s father—who had never seemed much impressed by his future son-in-law—commenting a few days hence on how the poor sap had been found roasted like a holiday turkey in the front seat of his aircraft. Something about that horrifying image motivated him. His body would not be found like a blackened Butterball he had to at least try to escape. He ejected the window on his side, and as fire closed over him, badly burning his face, he dropped hard to the ground and then ran from the erupting wreckage.

The exploding aircraft and ammo sent flaming bits of hot metal and debris spraying across the makeshift airport, riddling the four remaining working helicopters, whose crews jumped out and moved to a safe distance. Most of the men had no idea what was going on they knew only that a plane and a chopper had been destroyed. The air over the scene was heavy with the odor of fuel, so it wasn’t hard to imagine that all the other aircraft might burst into flames as well. The remaining C-130s began taxiing in different directions away from the conflagration.

Word of the calamity reached the command center in Wadi Kena in a hurried report: “We have a crash. A helo crashed into one of the C-130s. We have some dead, some wounded, and some trapped. The crash site is ablaze ammunition is cooking off.”

The only course now was to clear out, and fast. Some thought was given to retrieving the bodies of the dead, but the fire was raging, and there wasn’t time. Reached by radio at Wadi Kena, Major General James Vaught, the mission’s overall commander, instructed Burruss to turn loose the Iranian bus passengers. The Delta officer ordered one of his men to disable the bus by ripping some wires from its engine.

As Burruss headed back to his C-130, he took one last look at the flaming ruins of the plane and the chopper and felt a stab of remorse over leaving the dead behind. But nothing could be done about it.

Word of the catastrophe reached the White House just before the force left the ground in retreat. The president was in his study, surrounded by his advisers, still absorbing the shock of the abort decision. He received a call from General Jones.

Jordan watched the president close his eyes, and then Carter’s jaw fell and his face went pale.

“Are there any dead?” Carter asked.

The room was silent. Finally the president said softly, “I understand,” and hung up the phone.

He calmly explained to the others what had happened. The men took in the awful news quietly. Then Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, who had submitted his resignation earlier that day because he objected to the mission, said, “Mr. President, I’m very, very sorry.”

Jordan ducked into the president’s bathroom and vomited.

America’s elite rescue force had lost eight men, seven helicopters, and a C-130, and had not even made contact with the enemy. It was a debacle. It defined the word “debacle.”


The Unbelievable Story Of A Texas Businessman Who Launched A Freelance Commando Raid in Iran

In a dungeon in eastern Tehran, a pair of American business executives languish, their business suits disheveled, their skin sallow from lack of sunlight. They lean against the wall of their cell, picking at bits of bread as they listen to the cackles of madmen caged in some unseen part of the prison.

Outside their cell window, another sound is building: the angry cries of protesters approaching. Some of them are carrying rifles. The guards rush down the corridor and exchange gunfire with the angry mob. This is Qasr prison in Tehran. It&aposs 1979 and the country&aposs leader, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, has fled Iran, leaving behind a country in chaos.

William Gaylord and Paul Chiapparone, the two Americans, are tech executives from Texas, two guys just trying to do a job in a foreign country, who got gobbled up by the Shah&aposs secret police and stuffed into a dungeon. And they don&apost know if the mob is there to free them … or to kill them.

William Gaylord and Paul Chiapparone in Qasr prison.Task & Purpose illustration by Matt Battaglia

In the street, a small team of retired commandos led by a retired Army Special Forces colonel is offering assistance to the revolutionaries — comrades of whom will, nine months later, storm the U.S. embassy. As a prison sniper aims his rifle at the crowd from one of Qasr&aposs towers, a retired commando takes him out.

Before long, the jailers flee and the armed mob storms the prison, flinging open the cells of political prisoners, madmen and Americans alike. Gaylord and Chiapparone make a dash into the unfamiliar streets of Tehran as a few lingering guards fire on the fleeing prisoners.

As the executives make a run for it, an Iranian agent working for their boss rushes through the streets calling their name. He grabs random escapees by the shoulders, shouting in their faces and demanding answers. But he can&apost locate them. Two Americans lost in the streets of revolutionary Tehran. They&aposve fled the prison, but the danger is far from over. He calls their names but the words are drowned out by the surrounding chaos…

Although the scene — from the 1986 TV movie, “On Wings of Eagles” — is based on a true story, it owes a good bit of its heart-pounding suspense to the bluster of a Texas billionaire and the considerable literary chops of one of the best-selling novelists of the era.

Not that the truth wasn&apost plenty dramatic enough without embellishment. Though it&aposs now a forgotten chapter of America&aposs misadventures in the Middle East, the swashbuckling tale helped define our image of Iran and shape our foreign policy in the region, confirming a widespread view of U.S. President Jimmy Carter as hopelessly weak and Ronald Reagan as his muscular opposite. It also fed the narrative that American business could get things done that government couldn&apost, feeding the move toward privatization.

The businessman was big-money tech entrepreneur — and later third-party presidential candidate — Ross Perot, and the imprisoned Americans were a pair of senior employees at his company, Electronic Data Systems, whose hard-knuckle dealings with the Iranian regime had drawn the attention of authorities. The story of their rescue, like so many tales that have emerged from the Lone Star state, is largely a myth, one perpetuated by primetime television, a widely read novel, and Perot&aposs constant embellishment.

Back in 1974, Perot&aposs company won a contract to help modernize Iran&aposs bureaucracy by computerizing the government&aposs records. Electronic Data Systems proved itself by designing a document-control system for Tehran&aposs navy, then moved onto the big contract: a $41 million deal to put Iran&aposs social security records on computers. Doing business in the Shah&aposs Iran often required a certain ethical flexibility, and to grease the wheels of commerce in the Middle East, Perot cultivated a relationship with Iranian businessman Abolfath Mahvi. This is a guy the U.S. State Department later called “a bagman for the Shah.”

After it secured the Iranian navy contract, Electronic Data Systems deposited $400,000 into a Panamanian company owned by Mahvi. Later, once it secured the social security contract, it loaned one of Mahvi&aposs companies $200,000. EDS never recovered the loan.

“…But if your government is not willing to protect American citizens, and if you have people in your company imprisoned in a country, you have an obligation to get them out of there.”

This was the 1970s, a time when many Middle Eastern countries were coming into oil wealth. Rich middlemen across the region lined their pockets at the expense of both Western countries and their own homelands. This was just how business was done. But the summer of 1978 was a bad time to be a corrupt official in Iran.

Increasingly, people were in the streets, protesting the Shah&aposs oppressive regime — in particularly, his notoriously brutal secret police, the Savak — and viewing the United States as a co-conspirator in their suffering. They had a point, since the CIA, working with the United Kingdom, had orchestrated the overthrow of the nation&aposs last democratically elected leader, Mohammad Mosaddegh, and installed the Shah back in 1953.

Meanwhile, Electronic Data Systems was stalled in its project to computerize the social security system. The Texas executives didn&apost speak the language and didn&apost understand the culture. Tehran complained that the company wasn&apost meeting its timetable and that the company had dragged its feet when asked to replace American employees with Iranian citizens. As a result, Tehran began withholding its $1.4 million monthly payments for the project. Electronic Data Systems countered by threatening to pull out of the country unless Tehran paid its bills. That&aposs when the Savak turned up at the men&aposs homes, placed them under arrest and interrogated them about the company, corruption and their connection to Mahvi.

Most accounts refer to Gaylord and Chiapparone as “engineers,” which makes them sound far more humble than they were. Gaylord handled the social security contract and Chiapparone was the head of Electronic Data Systems in Iran. Tehran offered to release them on bail, demanded $12.75 million — the sum it had already paid on the contract. Imprisoning a company&aposs employees is one hell of a way to negotiate the settlement of a disputed business contract, and Perot was outraged by the move.

Indeed, it was a surprising tactic, given the Shah&aposs friendly relationship with the United States. But at the time, his hold on power was beginning to weaken, and he was eager to shore up his standing with the Iranian people. The Electronic Data Systems arrest came amid an aggressive anti-corruption campaign, which targeted not only American companies but the Shah&aposs own middlemen. In jail, Savak interrogators asked Gaylord and Chiapparone over and over again about Perot&aposs relationship with Mahvi. Much later, the secret police accused the pair of bribery.

Unwilling to put up the “bail,” Perot went to the State Department for help. “A lot of them didn&apost care,” he later said. “The State Department wasn&apost really interested. Protecting American citizens is a role our government should perform. Private companies, private individuals shouldn&apost be involved in this sort of thing. But if your government is not willing to protect American citizens, and if you have people in your company imprisoned in a country, you have an obligation to get them out of there.”

In retrospect, the government&aposs wariness is not surprising. Unlike the State Department staff taken hostage by student revolutionaries in 1979, the Electronic Data Systems executives were being held on suspicion of a crime under Iranian law, no matter how flimsy the rationale.

Special Forces colonel Arthur SimonsTask & Purpose illustration by Matt Battaglia

But Perot wanted his guys back. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he had served in the navy for four years in the 1950s. He was known for his love of hiring veterans. Quickly assembling a team of former military men, he began to hatch a wild plan — he wanted to straight-up bust Gaylord and Chiapparone out of jail.

Though a highly successful business executive, Perot knew he didn&apost have the experience to plot and execute a delicate raid on a foreign soil. During his Navy career, Perot had met a Special Forces colonel named Arthur Simons, who had fought during World War II and planned and executed a rescue mission of U.S. POWs during Vietnam. He seemed like the man for the job.

“When you run a military operation, the first thing you have to do is find the best officer you can and then give him everything he asks for,” Perot said. “I knew I wanted Col. Simons, though I hadn&apost seen him in years. We would not have considered going into the operation without him. He wasn&apost a machine, he was a very complicated man. His aim was to pull the whole thing off surgically and to bring everybody back safely.”

According to Perot, who signal blasted the tale for years, Simons and his team of volunteers planned the operation for months. They built a fake prison and practiced the rescue over and over again. They drove and redrove the escape route from Tehran to Turkey until it became second nature. Ahead of the raid, Perot hitched a ride on an NBC plane into Iran. Posing as part of the camera crew, he dropped off a piece of equipment on their behalf and wandered into the city. Walking up to prison where they were then being held, Perot waltzed in the front door, signed the visitor&aposs log, and paid Gaylord and Chiapparone a visit.

According to Perot&aposs account, he walked into the prison using his own passport and accidentally ran into an old friend who was there on business, taking advantage of the connection to get a private meeting with his two executives. If true, the story would seem to undermine the idea that the executives were ever in danger or that a commando raid was necessary. After all, the Savak secret police were not known to grant their prisoners such amenities or to let random passerby sashay into the prison.

In any case, Perot got his meeting. His message was simple: Be ready to bug out.

Perot hitched a ride on an NBC plane into Iran, posing as part of the camera crew.Task & Purpose illustration by Matt Battaglia

“It was important for me to look them in the eye and tell them that I was going to get them out,” he said in 1979. “I wouldn&apost have somebody else do it. I figured that if it had been me in jail, and I&aposd seen that the top guy can come in here, talk to me, and leave, then things might not be so far gone as they appear to be. It would settle me down.”

Before Simons and his team landed in country, Savak Gaylord and Chiapparone were moved to the infamous Qasr prison. Qasr was a fortress — a place the Shah kept political prisoners and other assorted enemies of the state. Perot&aposs irregulars had trained repeatedly using a mocked up model of the original jail. Qasr was something altogether different. A former Iranian ruler built the imposing edifice in 1790, and in Simons&apos opinion, it was impenetrable by Perot&aposs small team. They needed a new plan.

And then, they got a break. Just as Perot&aposs forces entered the country, the Shah fled. (He would eventually be admitted to the United States) The situation in the streets grew chaotic. According to Perot&aposs account, his team deployed Iranian Electronic Data Systems employees into the streets, directing them to incite a riot and liberate the prison by force. The plan was to spirit Gaylord and Chiapparone out of the country amid the ensuing chaos.

On his return to the United States, Perot addressed a waiting media scrum. The plan, he announced, had worked: As an Electronic Data Systems employee named Reza Saleh sparked a riot outside of Qasr and led the crowd to storm the prison, his executives scaled a wall and fled two miles on foot under a hail of gunfire. That sounded pretty good, but the escape was a bit less dramatic than that.

“It was important for me to look them in the eye and tell them that I was going to get them out.”

For one thing, Iranian revolutionaries were liberating prisons all over the country that year. The night before the raid on Qasr, Iranians had stormed the prison and opened its doors. Tehran historians and U.S. State Department officials later insisted that Perot had embellished story and that revolutionaries had planned to break into Qasr all along, without any incitement from Perot&aposs agent provocateur.

Gaylord and Chiapparone later admitted they simply walked out of the prison and down the street to a local hotel where Perot&aposs irregulars picked them up and escorted them across the Turkish border. They scaled no walls and dodged no bullets. News reports of the Qasr prison escape paint a less dramatic picture too. Most of the guards, seeing the writing on the wall, laid down their arms and surrendered without a fight.

Meanwhile, after arriving at a local Hyatt hotel, the two executives got in a car and drove across the border into Turkey escorted by Perot&aposs team. Unlike the gripping sequence in the televised version, the trip from Tehran to Turkey was boring and uneventful. Simons himself described it as a “spring outing.”

“We just got in a line of cars like everybody else,” Simons told a reporter with The Chicago Tribune. “We didn&apost have any real trouble at any of the towns or villages. We told everyone we were just a group of American men going home to visit our wives and children.”

When everyone got home, Perot played up the story. He personally reached out to British thriller author Ken Follet and offered him an undisclosed pile of cash to novelize the events. Follet obliged with the 1983 novel “On Wings of Eagles.” It quickly became a bestseller, and three years later became a five-hour NBC miniseries. Burt Lancaster played Simons. Richard Crenna, best known for playing John Rambo&aposs commanding officer, played Perot.

Gaylord and Chiapparone simply walked out of the prison and down the street to a local hotel.Task & Purpose illustration by Matt Battaglia

During the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, which set the stage for the U.S. presidential election pitting Democrat Jimmy Carter against Republican Ronald Reagan, Perot&aposs swashbuckling tale took on a powerful political resonance in the wake of the the disastrous Operation Eagle Claw, in which an attempt to free the 52 American hostages was aborted when several helicopters became inoperable at the mission&aposs staging area. For many observers, the debacle demonstrated Carter&aposs weakness when contrasted with the more aggressive, get-it-done approach of a colorful Texas businessman.

While Carter lost in a landslide, Perot went on to sue Iran for $20 million in back pay for Electronic Data Systems services and won. Simons died of a heart condition just three months after coming home.

Gaylord and Chiapparone seem to have been lost to history. Mahvi, the Shah&aposs alleged bagman, fled the country ahead of the revolution and settled into exile in Monte Carlo. Saleh, the Iranian who supposedly led the revolutionaries to storm Qasr prison, stuck around in Texas. He couldn&apost keep his nose clean and the Security and Exchanges Commission accused him of fraud in 2009. He settled out of court and kept out of jail.

Perot flirted with political aspirations of his own throughout the 1980s and 1990s. He ran for president in 1992 and again in 1996, losing both times but making a powerful showing. By then, the American consciousness had largely moved on from Iran, and the billionaire&aposs bluster about his daring-do failed to resonate with voters.

But fed by Hollywood, the myth persists. One hot summer day, during the tumult of revolution, a plucky Texas businessman with more money than sense launched a successful rescue mission in the Middle East, succeeding where so many American presidents have failed. He arrived with a clear mission, accomplished his goal, and left when it was over.


Video: 40 years ago was the Iran hostage rescue attempt – here’s SOCOM’s video they released

Friday April 24, 2020 marks the 40-year mark since the launch of Operation Eagle Claw, the U.S. special operations attempt to rescue U.S. hostages captured at the embassy in Iran.

On Nov. 4 1979, militant Iranian students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran and took 63 hostages. Over the course of several months a few of the hostages were eventually released, but by April 52 hostages still remained in captivity. A plan was hatched to rescue the remaining hostages, but complications in coordinating the mission ultimately led to its failure and the death of eight U.S. service members.

A video released by the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) details some of the difficulties that caused the mission failure.

The mission called for the deployment of dozens of special operations members to rescue 52 hostages and return them safely. Among the difficulties in such an undertaking was that the U.S. did not possess helicopters capable of making the long-distance flight the mission required. Part of the plan involved securing an airfield in neighboring Iraq, known as “Desert One” to provide a staging area for refueling during the mission.

Six C-130 transport planes were also part of the mission. Three planes would carry the hostages, while the other three would carry bladders full of extra fuel, as part of the mission’s requirements to capture and establish a temporary refueling spot.

Members of U.S. Army’s 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, along with Delta Force operators and other personnel were part of the team brought in to rescue the hostages.

Altogether, the plan involved eight CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters would carry the rescue team in to rescue the hostages in Iran, and then bring them back to the airfield, where the six waiting C-130’s would then carry all hostages and rescuers back to safety.

A U.S. CH-53 Sea Stallion destroyed during Operation Eagle Claw (Wikimedia Commons/Released)

The plan was cut short when several of the aircraft required for the mission were rendered unable to fly due to a sandstorm. In total, three helicopters were either unable to fly to “Desert One” or unable to leave them that point. The planners originally stated that if the force had less than six helicopters, they would abandon the mission.

Having failed to bring in the required number of helicopters to carry out the rescue, the mission was aborted. The mission took another turn for the worse as the rescue aircraft were leaving “Desert One.” One of the helicopters collided with one of the transport planes carrying extra fuel. The resulting explosion killed eight U.S. personnel.

Five of the U.S. personnel lost during Operation Eagle Claw. (Photo by Senior Airman Andrea Posey, U.S. Air Force, 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs)

The Iran hostages remained in captivity for another 270 days after the failed mission.

Then-President Jimmy Carter bore much of the blame for the failed mission and lost the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan. The hostage crisis ended on Jan. 20, 1981, the same day as Reagan’s inauguration, according to a History.com timeline of the hostage crisis.

Despite the failure of the mission, USSOCOM credits the lessons learned from the mission as vital to the formation of the command.

Operation EAGLE CLAW ended in tragedy and served as the genesis of special operations forces reform and revitalization. https://t.co/Yn7sqVNMt2

— USSOCOM (@USSOCOM) April 24, 2020

“That event, in my view, was probably one of the most successful failures in history,” said retired Gen. Pete Schoomaker, “because it really led directly to the creation of the current special operation forces we have today and eventually the creation of USSOCOM.”

USSOCOM was formed on April 17, 1987, nearly seven years to the day after Operation Eagle Claw failed.

The USSOCOM video also noted that while the aircraft used during the 1980 mission were not capable of performing the mission without refueling stops, todays V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft could likely perform the same mission flights in a round trip time of about eight hours.


Aftermath:

Jimmy Carter spoke to the US citizens the next morning. He gave the bitter news of an operation failure to rescue US hostages in Iran.

Ayatollah Khomeini celebrated it as an act of god and an end to the US superpower. The US planned another operation to rescue the hostages, but it remained as a plan and never got executed.

The USA started negotiations to release the hostages via Algerian intermediate. Iran released the hostages after the USA released 8 billion dollars of US assets.

The hostages were released precisely the day Jimmy Carter left office, and Ronald Reagan (R-California) became the president of USA. Jimmy Carter flew to West Germany to receive the hostages.

Some argue that a poor plan was the primary cause of the failure. Every department in the pentagon needed part of a share in the rescue operation.

The initial plan was to use the Air Force helicopter, which had the range to reach the stadium and come back. Still, the US navy wanted it also to be a participant, which led to the use of a Navy helicopter, which needed a refuel.

The Pentagon didn’t have a proper blueprint of the US embassy in Tehran. Even if they would have rescued the 52 US embassy employees, there were still 2,000 citizens from other countries, including the USA in Iran.

Iran might have used these citizens as hostages and continued the issue. The entire saga let to the disastrous end to the mission and also an end to Jimmy carter’s second term as US president.


The Incredible, Absurd Iranian Hostage Rescue Mission That Never Happened

Updated with video

Despite a recent thaw in U.S.-Iranian relations, anti-American Iranians will once again celebrate November 4 with chants of “death to America” and cheers for the 1979 day a student mob stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran, capturing 52 people and beginning a 444-day hostage crisis that left America traumatized.

Compounding the nightmare for America was the disastrous April 24, 1980, mission to rescue the hostages—a logistical fiasco which left eight charred American corpses in the Iranian desert after a helicopter crashed into a transport plane at an improvised airfield known as Desert One.

While the story of that tragically failed mission is infamous, few Americans realize that planning began almost immediately for a second, even more audacious attempt—an ridiculously bold mission that would have had unpredictable results. “It would have been World War III,” one general involved in the planning later joked to the Washington Post.

Initiated even as recriminations over the botched first attempt swirled around Jimmy Carter‘s White House, the new plan—under the code name Honey Badger—traded the surgical design of the first one, which aimed for stealth and minimal violence, for brazen brute force. In an interview with the author David Patrick Houghton for a 2001 book on the hostage crisis Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was Carter’s national security advisor at the time, said that

the second plan involved going into the airport at Tehran, taking the airport, shooting up anything in the way, bombing anything that starts interfering, storming the embassy, taking out anybody whose alive after that process and then going back and taking off.

The most serious planning, however, seems to have revolved not around action at Tehran’s airport but at its Amjadieh soccer stadium, located near the U.S. embassy in the city’s center. This was Operation Credible Sport, which sought to avoid the first mission’s reliance on helicopters to insert and remove personnel from the U.S. embassy area. That mission had failed after the helicopters encountered mechanical problems flying through the desert at night, leading to a crash that killed the eight Americans. No one wanted to use multiple choppers again.

The Pentagon effort, detailed by Jane’s Defence Weekly, as well as a 2001 account by retired Air Force Colonel Jerry L. Thigpen, tasked Lockheed-Martin engineers with modifying the design of a C-130 Hercules transport plane that would allow it to land and take off in a space that Jane’s described as the size of a football field with a 33-foot obstacle at either end. This was very likely the Amjadieh stadium, which had been the first mission’s designated point for extraction by helicopter of the hostages. (The obstacles were likely the stadium’s bleachers.)

The C-130 typically requires about 3000 of runway for landing and takeoff. Amjadieh afforded something closer to 100 yards. Like something from an adolescent boy’s imagination, the solution called for festooning the propeller plane with “lift rockets slanting downward, slowdown rockets facing forward, missile motors facing backward, and still more rockets to stabilize the plane as it touched down,” according to a CNN account of the Jane‘s report (which does not appear to be online).

Perhaps not shockingly, a Credible Sport test plane would quickly crash, when, on October 29, 1980, a confused pilot prematurely fired one of the rocket engines at low altitude, tearing off the plane’s right wing. (There were no casualties.) You can see an amazing video of it here:

Incredibly, the planning continued anyway, and was abandoned only after Iran’s government announced that it would release the hostages, who were returned in January 1981.

It’s a wonder Honey Badger went as far as it did. A second rescue attempt would have meant finding the hostages, who—despite Brzezinski’s reference to storming the embassy—were moved to disparate new locations after the first mission’s failure, as Carter notes In his 1995 memoir Keeping Faith:

“After the captive Americans were dispersed to several secret locations, they were kept under heavy guard and also moved from place to place in order to keep them concealed from us,” he wrote. “Even with a maximum intelligence effort, there was no way to tell exactly where all of them were.”


Complete Guide to the 1980 Iranian Hostage Crisis and Rescue Mission, Operation Eagle Claw, Desert One, Holloway Report, Studies, Plans, CIA Role in Argo Cover Story, Formerly Secret Documents

This massive ebook provides encyclopedic coverage of the Iranian hostage crisis during the Carter administration and the 1980 failed military rescue mission with declassified Department of Defense documents, intelligence reports, histories and reports. These reports provide important new information on this controversy. There is extensive coverage of military activities, including the planning and execution of the hostage rescue mission called Operation Eagle Claw, which resulted in the Desert One tragedy on April 25, 1980. There is also new information on planning for Operation Snowbird later in 1980. Contents:

Part 2: Iran Hostage Rescue Mission Report (The Holloway Report)

Part 3: Robert Ode Hostage Diary

Part 4: Statements by Defense Secretary Brown and JSC Chairman Jones

Part 5: Crisis in Iran - Operation Eagle Claw

Part 6: The Iranian Hostage Rescue Mission - A Case Study

Part 7: Two White Houses - The Iran Hostage Crisis

Part 8: Choosing Peace: Jimmy Carter and the Iran Hostage Crisis

Part 9: A Classic Case of Deception - CIA Goes Hollywood, The Argo Cover Story

Part 10: Broken Stiletto - Command and Control of the Joint Task Force During Operation Eagle Claw at Desert One

Part 11: Desert One: The Hostage Rescue Mission

Part 12: Operation Eagle Claw - Lessons Learned

Part 13: Disaster at Desert One: Catalyst for Change

Part 14: The Iranian Hostage Rescue Attempt

Part 15: Iranian Hostage Rescue Attempt - A Case Study

Part 16: Skipping the Interagency Process Can Mean Courting Disaster: The Case of Desert One

Part 17: Explaining Iran's Foreign Policy, 1979-2009

Part 19: From Son Tay to Desert One: Lessons Unlearned

Part 20: Airborne Raids - A Potent Weapon in Countering Transnational Terrorism

Part 21: Command and Control of Special Operations Forces Missions in the U.S. Northern Command Area of Responsibility

Part 22: Excerpt about Desert One from The Praetorian STARShip: The Untold Story of the Combat Talon

Part 23: Original Documents

On November 4, 1979, more than 3,000 Iranian militant students stormed the American Embassy in Tehran, Iran. 66 Americans were seized and held hostage, precipitating a confrontation with the United States. The result of this crisis would change the course of a presidency, and affect the relations between the two nations. In military history one can stand out as a splendid example or a disastrous reminder. The brave men who attempted to rescue American hostages in Iran in April of 1980 unfortunately became a disastrous reminder of the need for unity of command, joint training, and good communications, and the dangers of overly complex and needlessly compartmented planning. The failure of their mission, Operation Eagle Claw, would be a prime motivator in the subsequent formation of US Special Operations Command.

On April 24, 1980, highly-trained members of the four armed services made a valiant attempt to rescue the 44 diplomats and servicemembers held hostage in the Islamic republic of Iran. What the vast majority of Americans did not know was that planning for an armed rescue attempt began almost immediately after the embassy was overrun. The code name for the overall operation was Rice Bowl, while the operational portion was known as Eagle Claw. The operation was complex and faced several limiting factors, among which were the relative isolation of Tehran and the available courses of action which involved an increased risk of equipment failure. One critical piece of the operation was a refueling and overnight stay at a mid-desert site named Desert One. When the operation finally launched on the night of April 24, 1980, equipment failures and unpredictable dust storms caused the on-scene commanders to abort the mission. As the rescue force prepared to evacuate Desert One, an H-53 helicopter collided with a C-130.


Watch the video: ΗΠΑ: Σοβαρή απειλή το πυρηνικό πρόγραμμα της Βόρειας Κορέας, δήλωσε ο Ας Κάρτερ (August 2022).