How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight

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Operation Eagle Claw Iran hostage crisis

Summary List Placement

On April 24, 1980, America’s best attempted the unthinkable — the rescue of 52 American hostages from inside revolutionary Tehran.

On November 4, 1979, Iranian students stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and took 66 Americans hostage. (Several had been released by the time the rescue was attempted.)

Furious at the US’s decision to not extradite Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi — the former king of Iran who had been ousted by an Islamic revolution in January and was receiving medical care in America — the Iranian students sought to use American hostages as bargaining chips with the blessing of Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s new leader.

A 444-day ordeal for the hostages had just begun.

A complex plan

Less than a month later, the US military began training for a daring rescue. As the military’s premier hostage-rescue unit, the Army’s newly established Delta Force would spearhead the operation’s ground part.

But it was a complicated affair. Surrounded by deserts and mountains, Tehran was challenging to reach in force. The CIA flew out an Air Force commando who surveyed and approved a forward staging location about 50 miles from the Iranian capital. The site was dubbed Desert One.

Moreover, despite some intrepid close-target intelligence gathered by individual commandos inside Tehran, there was inadequate information for the operation — Delta had to rely on Iranian national TV for much of its intelligence.

The task force couldn’t pinpoint the exact location of all the hostages. Aside from the embassy — a sprawling 26-acre compound that in its prime housed 1,000 Americans — reports suggested the Iranians were holding some hostages at the Foreign Ministry.

The CIA couldn’t provide actionable intelligence since its operations in Iran were limited by President Jimmy Carter in response to the agency’s past actions.

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In addition, all four US military branches wanted a piece of the action, leading to a confusing compromise: The Air Force would provide the fixed-wing aircraft (three MC-130E Combat Talons and three EC-130E Hercules) and a Special Tactics team. The Navy would furnish eight RH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters from nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz. The Marine Corps would contribute pilots for the helicopters; and finally, the Army would supply the Rangers, Delta Force, and Special Forces operators responsible for rescuing the hostages.

Operation Eagle Claw, as it was officially known, called for the MC-130E and EC-130E to fly the task force and necessary supplies 1,000 miles from Oman to Desert One. The eight RH-53 would fly 600 miles from USS Nimitz and meet them there.

After refueling, the helicopters would fly the 132 Army commandos to a hideout 50 miles from Tehran. Meanwhile, the transport aircraft would fly back to Oman.

The next night, the Delta operators and Rangers would use vehicles obtained by the Army and CIA to get to their targets.

Once the assault force had freed the hostages, the helicopter would fly them to an abandoned airbase, which a company of Rangers would have captured, 50 miles from Tehran. They would then destroy the helicopters and fly to Saudi Arabia via C-141 Starlifters.

Three AC-130 gunships …read more

Source:: Business Insider

      

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