March 27, 2023

“Operation Eagle Claw”, was a failed rescue operation that had shaken the world in 1980.

By Ahmet Abdulaziz…..

Surfing on the net just yesterday, i came across a video about the “Operation Eagle Claw”. I got stuck there, because that was the topic that had attracted me, 42 years ago. After watching the video, I found a full documentary about this operation, and watched it on television at home. Indeed fantastic it was, but that took me way back to my past, when as an amateur journalist, i had followed this story, through newspapers and television.

“Operation Eagle Claw” was a very ambitious US military plan, to rescue the 52 staff members of the American embassy held captive by the Government backed anti-America Iranian students in Tehran. The secret mission was carried out on the night of 24-25th April 1980. The rescue plan failed, costing the lives of 8 American soldiers. There were 5 American soldiers injured. That was perhaps one of the most disastrous events in American history.

Way back in those days, I was specifically interested in the then-ongoing anti-Shah protests and the ultimate revolution in Iran, since I had been there in 1972. I was 17 years old in 1972, and along with my parents had visited Iran. We had spent one day in Zahidan, one night in Mashad, and a week in Tehran, on our way to Turkey. During the whole week that we stayed in Tehran, in 1972, I had done nothing but roaming, here and there.

Due to that, I had found myself a bit more attracted to what was going on in Iran in 1979 and onwards. I remember, my father too was also curious about the news coming from Iran.

With this my personal background, the failure of Operation Eagle Claw, had stunned everybody. As a young boy then, we were used to watching films of the American secret agents who were always succeeding in achieving their goals. Though the Americans had already lost the Vietnam war, a few years before, still the very image of the success of secret American agents and their secret operations in different parts of the world, was indexed to success and victory.

But the “Operation Eagle Claw”, was not a film plot. That was real. It was going to be the very first operation of “Delta Force”. In no way it was a very very daring plan, to be operated in a hostile country, and involved too many different factors to click. Unfortunately, nothing went according to the plan.

According to the plan eight US Navy RH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters along with 5 C-130 transport aircraft, along with the commandos, marines, and the needed arms and ammunition, were to land at a place code-named “Desert One” in the Iranian desert, some 320 km southeast of Tehran. The next day the combat troops would carry out the rescue mission in Tehran, and would then fly off Iran, along with the rescued American hostages.

But nothing went according to the plan. Two of the helicopters developed mechanical problems at the very start of the mission. The helicopters got stuck in a violent wind-driven sand storm while landing. The troops, who had earlier reached in the C-130s found a passenger bus nearing them, on a deserted road, not usually used. They had to take the passengers off the bus as hostages. But that was not all. They found a fuel truck coming, not stopping when shot at, and was hit. That led to a big blast, with a huge fire in the fuel truck.

Despite all this, the Delta force wanted to go on with the plan, but due to the sand storm, another helicopter developed a technical problem and became un-operatable. The plan had to be aborted, as it could not be carried on with 5 helicopters. The plan was officially aborted, but with all this hustle, one of the helicopters collided with a C-130, which led to not only the loss of both but also the loss of 8 soldiers, due to the fire.

The remaining soldiers flew off, from “Desert One” quickly, leaving behind the burnt bodies, helicopters, and equipment, maps, etc etc. The next morning Iranians found all these, and the failure of “Operation Eagle Claw” was the top story everywhere in the world.

So that was a big blow to the American government, and the American people in general, but also a personal loss to the then President, Jimmy Carter, who lost the ongoing Presidential elections.

However, one thing that I did not know earlier, but learned that President Jimmy Carter, was not in favour of carrying out this operation, but with the passage of time and all diplomatic moves becoming unproductive, he had somewhat unwillingly approved the execution of the mission. The Americans had tried but failed. The American hostages, remained in Tehran to complete 444 days of their captivity and were released on 20th January 1981.

I can say, that just yesterday I got a chance to re-live those days of 1979 and 1980 when the “Operation Eagle Claw” had failed.

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