Was President Carter's attempted Iranian hostage rescue a miltarily sound operation?

…or did he just have bad luck with the copters crashing and all? Given miltary tactical knowledge and capabilities at the time was it a good operation on paper, and did it have a reasonable chance of success without the crashes or was it a poorly organized crapshoot?

Here is a short description below. Click on this BBC linkfor the whole story.



Well… based on the responses (cough) I guess it was just bad luck!

It was a very audacious plan, performed in conditions which were not fully understood at the time. Delta Force was only three years old and didn’t have the extensive operational experience they have now. They were also hampered by an almost complete lack of human intelligence on the ground in Iran, I also recall. Had the mission not failed at the staging point in the desert, there were a great number of other things that could go wrong.

We’re probably lucky that the mission failed when it did, in light of everything else that began to go south. That’s not a statement based in superstition, either. When a plan begins to unravel the errors compound to a point where it’s no longer salvageable, and this mission was clearly headed in that direction.

A friend of mine who ought to know says that only about 50% of all special forces missions are successful, and that’s a pretty damned good percentage. The rest get scrubbed before they even start or fail to properly meet the mission objectives.

Eagle Claw was one of the latter. It was scrubbed even before it really began because of the breakdown of three of the eight large helicopters needed to carry out the mission. They needed six to complete the mission, so it was a wash from that point forward. Disaster struck thereafter when a helicopter and a C-130 collided.

Lots and lots of other things went wrong, too, and some of them might have been preventable. Some have argued that the desert conditions and its effect on the helicopters should have been better anticipated. We could have put a LRRP team down in advance to determine if the selected site was as remote as suggested (it wasn’t). But hindsight is 20/20 and many of the lessons we learned from the failure of that mission simply hadn’t been learned before.


  1. There was insufficient redundancy. Four helicopters were lost to the mission, and the mission was no longer able to continue.

  2. Most likely, launching a mission with sufficient redundancy would have meant that operational security would have been compromised or lost, so they mission could not have been launched with sufficient redundancy.

So it was unsound.


I agree with your point of view to some extent, Sua Sponte, but I think it’s still important to point out again that special ops have an inherently high degree of risk associated with them. It’s not unusual at all for missions to be compromised because of those risks.

Those missions are planned by the best planners, led by the best commanders, and executed by the most elite members of the armed forces with the best equipment and training, and yet they still fail to complete the mission half the time–or more–because the objective dictates the structure of the mission rather than the other way around. Most special operations are, to one degree or another, unsound. They sometimes succeed because they attempt to do those things which the enemy thinks are too difficult or impossible–or crazy–to try.

Nevertheless, I do think you’re probably right on this one. The mission proved to be impossible to carry out, which is evidence in itself. But I think we must also judge the operation under a less stringent criteria because special forces so often operate within the thin gray line between the improbable and the impossible.

I’d have to go check with my ex helo pilot friends, but I believe they also used the wrong helos. The problem was, the military planners had little choice because of political decisions made by Carter. (Despite being ex-Navy, or perhaps because he was ex-Navy, Carter just about did the Navy in.) My friends are old enough that that particular operation is a real sore point with them.

As I recall, it was also being micro-managed by Carter, up to the point of his being the one to give the order for helicopters to lift off, etc.

Does anyone else remember that? It’s been years since I looked at that mission.

Some apologists noted that Iranian talk of putting the hostages on trial ceased after the rescue mission was attempted.

From what I know, SF operations are quite successful if they have safe ingress and egress. If these things go well, they usually perfrom quite well on-target.

The guy who was to head the rescue mission, M.Gen. Jimmy Vaught, didnt even have a base of operations, or a team in place to train. He had to select men from standing SF teams, instead of selecting a team that had already trained together.

This mission brought about the first attempts at flying wth night vision goggles in a helicopter.

Someone mentioned helicoptors. They used Sea Stallions from the Nimitz, which were only suited to the mission in terms of range of flight.

Of the 8 Sea Stallions, 6 made it to the rendez vous point in the dessert late because of sandstorms. So they were flying blacked out, with night vision goggles for the first time, in a sandstorm. Not good. The 2 that were left had mechanical problems before they even got that far and had to go back to the Nimitz. So now we are down from 8 to 6 helos. They had a contingency for using only 6, but it was tight.

When they arrived at the rendez vous point, one of the 6 burned out a hydrolics pump. Now they were down to 5. The mission could not go on.

The disaster occured just after refueling. The helos were in a hover, and they were supposed to be using a flashlight on the ground as a reference point. Someone was using a flashlight to inspect the wheel well of a C-130 that was there, and the helo pilot started hovering on that reference point. He assumed it to be stationary, but the guy with the flashlight ran away from the dust storm kicked up y the rotor wash and the pilot assumed the helo itself was moving, so “corrected” himself into the C-130. I think 8 people were killed. The rest of the mission personel left the wreckage in the dessert and made it for home.

As far as it being operationally sound, yes and no. They had decent inteligence on the Chancery building, where the hostages were thought to be, but knew little else about the people holding them. They based the assualt on the Israeli attack on Entebbe, which was an airfield. They were going into the heart of a metropolis.

Before we judge this mission, remember what they had to work with. There were not even support units trained for this. So you have a guy who is leisurely refueling helos 3 miles from the deck of a carrier one night, who is dashing 200 miles into hostile territoty the next. But they tried. and they learned from the mistakes.

If you want a poorly planned and executed rescue operation, do a google search on the freighter Mayaguez.

I wonder, given the chance again, what sort of other options could have been put into play?

With hindsight, one of the most despairing aspects of the matter, from the USA’s point of view, was that the Hostage Crisis demonstrated just how LITTLE influence they had in the region at the time - as in doing a bit of leaning on someone here or someone there, and or calling in some old debts.

Me personally? If I’d have been Jimmy Carter, I would have flown in there, uninvited, in the Presidential Jet, along with a truckload of fighter planes and just plain called their bluff. I would have shown up in Tehran airport and simply said, “Hand 'em over and we’ll call it even stevens right here, right now… if I die… the entire US Military is gonna bomb you into the Stone Age. If you don’t hand 'em over, the entire US Military is gonna start bombing every single mosque in the country - they’re fucking easy to spot you know… your call…”

Now, I’ll happily concede that’s a pretty gung-ho thing to do, but you gotta remember - Jimmy Carter had NO OTHER cards to play. His inability to do anything else consigned his fate to history as being largely seen as an “ineffectual president”. At least if he’d tried my plan, even if he had died, man he would have gone down in history as a man of character, leading a country full of character. As it was, his demonstration of ineffectuality arguably invited much scorn and contempt for the USA by the Arab World, and it probably set the tone for much of the contemptuous rhetoric towards the USA by the Arab World ever since.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that the Iranian Hostage Crisis represented a real sea change it seems to me - regarding how the USA was perceived in the Arab World. The “Great Satan” shit was definitely over the top at the time, and most of it was utterly bewildering to Americans back home, but what REALLY counted was that the Iranians won a moral victory. By getting away with it, they earnt the right to “snicker” at the USA for years onwards, and the rest of the Arab World chose to buy into that snickering.

If Jimmy Carter had called their bluff and shown up uninvited demanding the handing over of said hostages - at the very least - the Iranians would have had a TOTALLY different respect for the office that is “The President of the United States of America”. The ball would so TOTALLY have been in their court, and if they would have been so reckless as to take Jimmy Carter hostage too, and or kill him, the whole world would have condoned Iran getting obliterated.

You can read Rouge Warrior by Richard Marcinko, who was somewhat involved if you can believe him. IIRC, His biggest criticism was that every force wanted a piece of the operation. Instead of special forces all the way, the navy and air force and other groups all had to get involved. So you had a very delicate operation performed by segments that had never trained before. As the author put it:" Mr. Murphy went along for the ride.

I like your style.:cool:

Wasn’t the Rouge Warrior Boy George?


[sub](I think you meant Rogue Warrior.)[/sub]