Military Monday – Operation Eagle Claw

by Crocker on May 3, 2010, 6:29 pm

in History,Military,Politics

During the 1970s, it wasn’t easy being in the military. After America’s involvement in Vietnam ended – and after Watergate – the left wing of the Democrat Party took over the Congress. By the time Jimmy Carter was elected – our most feckless president prior to Hope ‘n Change – the smart set held the military in contempt at precisely the time when the Soviet Union and Islamists really began flexing their muscles.

On November 4, 1979, Iranian radicals – whose number included Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and took our personnel hostage for the next 444 days. After considerable dithering in the face of a clear act of war, Carter approved Operation Eagle Claw – a combined-forces rescue operation involving the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and the Army’s newly-formed Delta Force under the command of the legendary Col. Charlie Beckwith. The mission was scheduled for April 24-25, 1980.

The plan – an abortion from the outset – had the Air Force using C-130s to transport the Delta contingent to a desert location (“Desert One”) within helicopter range of Tehran. They were to be joined by Navy Sea Stallion helicopters flying from the USS Nimitz, which was operating in the Arabian Sea.

After snatching the prisoners, everyone would have returned to Desert One by helo for evacuation by C-130. Unfortunately, the Navy choppers ran into sandstorms on the way to Desert One and several had to abort. When it was clear that there were too few choppers to execute the mission, the mission was aborted after a satellite call to Washington.

During the evacuation, one of the choppers clipped and set alight one of the fuel-laden C-130s. A number of Air Force personnel died with the helo pilots suffering severe burns. Everyone piled onto the remaining C-130s and fled the scene. The remaining helos were left behind for the Iranian Air Force. The Iranians dispersed the prisoners thereafter, making rescue impractical.

While the operation was a fiasco, the military learned several important lessons, not the least of which was the necessity for integrated special operations airlift capacity and unified operational command. Charlie Beckwith, heartbroken over the mission’s failure, resigned from the Army shortly thereafter.

But as Drew from Ace of Spades relates, when the Administration announced the mission’s disastrous failure, the country began collectively cursing Carter with every well-chosen epithet in the mother tongue. And here is the Loser-in-Chief describing his Administration’s incompetence.


Thirty years ago.

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