Remembering the lost troops of Operation Eagle Claw, the failed Iranian embassy hostage rescue mission

History
The wreckage of the downed EC-130 lost during Operation Eagle Claw in 1980.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

In the early hours of April 25, 1980, President Jimmy Carter made a sober announcement to the nation: An attempt by U.S. military forces rescue the 52 staff held hostage at the American embassy in Tehran since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, had ended in a catastrophic failure without even engaging the enemy.


According to Carter, equipment failure aboard several of the eight RH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters launched from the USS Nimitz led the president to abort the mission. But during the strike forces' withdrawal, one of the Sea Stallions collided with an EC-130. Five airmen and three Marines were killed in the ensuing explosion.

“There was no fighting; there was no combat," said Carter. “We were all convinced that if and when the rescue operation had been commenced that it had an excellent chance of success … To the families of those who died and who were wounded, I want to express the admiration I feel for the courage of their loved ones and the sorrow that I feel personally for their sacrifice."

President Jimmy Carter - Statement on Iran Rescue Mission www.youtube.com


The botched rescue operation is widely credited with costing Carter re-election in a crushing defeat to former California Gov. Ronald Reagan during the 1980 presidential election. (Mark Bowden, the journalist best known for the story that became “Black Hawk Down," authored a remarkable timeline of the operation of Operation Eagle Claw in a 2006 issue of The Atlantic).

But as our friends at Soldier Systems point out, their sacrifice was not in vain. In fact, it led to the development of the modern special operations capability we know today.

In May 1980, the Joint Chiefs of Staff commissioned a Department of Defense's Special Operations Review Group to evaluate the underlying causes of the botched rescue mission, examining every stage from planning and organization to mission command and control. Led by former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. James L. Holloway III, the so-called Holloway Report concluded that the “ad-hoc nature" of Eagle Claw's organization and planning created too much room for error.

The eight U.S. armed forces servicemen killed during Operation Eagle Claw(U.S. Air Force photo)

“By not utilizing an existing JTF organization," Holloway and his fellow senior military officers wrote, “the Joint Chiefs of Staff had to start, literally, from the beginning to establish a JTF, create an organization, provide a staff, develop a plan, select the united, and train the force between the first mission capability could be attained."

Within a few years, the Holloway report catalyzed not only a sweeping reorganization of the Department of Defense but the creation of the United States Special Operations Command, a unified command apparatus to ensure that a lack of inter-service communication didn't yield another unforced error for special operators downrange.

Despite the perception of Operation Eagle Claw as a failure, the sacrifices of those eight American servicemen were not in vain. The botched mission “pointed out the necessity for a dedicated special operations section within the Department of Defense with the responsibility to prepare and maintain combat-ready forces to successfully conduct special operations," as airman Luke Kitterman wrote Monday.

Without that failed mission, we likely wouldn't have elite units like Delta Force, Army Rangers, Navy SEALs on the front lines of the Global War on Terror. Those eight servicemen may have died without firing a shot, but without them, U.S. special operations wouldn't be what it is today.

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

US Marine Corps

The Marine lieutenant colonel who was removed from command of 1st Reconnaissance Battalion in May is accused of lying to investigators looking into allegations of misconduct, according to a copy of his charge sheet provided to Task & Purpose on Monday.

Read More Show Less

President Donald Trump just can't stop telling stories about former Defense Secretary James Mattis. This time, the president claims Mattis said U.S. troops were so perilously low on ammunition that it would be better to hold off launching a military operation.

"You know, when I came here, three years ago almost, Gen. Mattis told me, 'Sir, we're very low on ammunition,'" Trump recalled on Monday at the White House. "I said, 'That's a horrible thing to say.' I'm not blaming him. I'm not blaming anybody. But that's what he told me because we were in a position with a certain country, I won't say which one; we may have had conflict. And he said to me: 'Sir, if you could, delay it because we're very low on ammunition.'

"And I said: You know what, general, I never want to hear that again from another general," Trump continued. "No president should ever, ever hear that statement: 'We're low on ammunition.'"

Read More Show Less

At least one Air Force base is waging a slow battle against feral hogs — and way, way more than 30-50 of them.

A Texas trapper announced on Monday that his company had removed roughly 1,200 feral hogs from Joint Base San Antonio property at the behest of the service since 2016.

Read More Show Less

In a move that could see President Donald Trump set foot on North Korean soil again, Kim Jong Un has invited the U.S. leader to Pyongyang, a South Korean newspaper reported Monday, as the North's Foreign Ministry said it expected stalled nuclear talks to resume "in a few weeks."

A letter from Kim, the second Trump received from the North Korean leader last month, was passed to the U.S. president during the third week of August and came ahead of the North's launch of short-range projectiles on Sept. 10, the South's Joongang Ilbo newspaper reported, citing multiple people familiar with the matter.

In the letter, Kim expressed his willingness to meet the U.S. leader for another summit — a stance that echoed Trump's own remarks just days earlier.

Read More Show Less

Editor's Note: This article by Oriana Pawlyk originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

On April 14, 2018, two B-1B Lancer bombers fired off payloads of Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles against weapons storage plants in western Syria, part of a shock-and-awe response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons against his citizens that also included strikes from Navy destroyers and submarines.

In all, the two bombers fired 19 JASSMs, successfully eliminating their targets. But the moment would ultimately be one of the last — and certainly most publicized — strategic strikes for the aircraft before operations began to wind down for the entire fleet.

A few months after the Syria strike, Air Force Global Strike Command commander Gen. Tim Ray called the bombers back home. Ray had crunched the data, and determined the non-nuclear B-1 was pushing its capabilities limit. Between 2006 and 2016, the B-1 was the sole bomber tasked continuously in the Middle East. The assignment was spread over three Lancer squadrons that spent one year at home, then six month deployed — back and forth for a decade.

The constant deployments broke the B-1 fleet. It's no longer a question of if, but when the Air Force and Congress will send the aircraft to the Boneyard. But Air Force officials are still arguing the B-1 has value to offer, especially since it's all the service really has until newer bombers hit the flight line in the mid-2020s.

Read More Show Less