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The Failed Rescue Attempt in Iran

Boy, do I remember this. On 24 Apr 1980, a military operation to rescue the 52 American hostages held in Tehran, Iran, ended with eight US servicemen dead and no hostages rescued.

With the Iran Hostage Crisis in its sixth month and all diplomatic appeals to the Iranians ending in failure, President Jimmy Carter ordered a military operation to save the hostages. I was the Mideast war planner at US Readiness Command, the only Dept of Defense outfit with a headquarters trained to pull of such a multi-service mission—but some brass at the Pentagon decided to do it themselves—without even input from us. During the operation, three of eight helicopters failed. The mission was then canceled at the staging area in Iran, but during the withdrawal one of the helicopters collided with a C-130, killing eight soldiers and injuring five. My general heard about this on the news while he was shaving; he showed up at the headquarters and got on the phone to the Secretary of Defense—yeah, he was mad.

The next day, President Carter publicly took full responsibility for the tragedy. The hostages were not released for another 270 days—the day of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration as president. I guess the Iranians knew Reagan wouldn’t waste time pleading with them.

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