April 25 marks the 29th anniversary of U.S failure in its “rescue” operation in Tabas. The incident is one of the most defacing instances of the White House policies against the Islamic Revolution of Iran. On this account, IBNA provides a review on the recent literature of the issue.
IBNA: In April 24, 1980, the Operation Eagle Claw (in Iran, known as Delta Force) was a United States military operation to free its embassy staff from Iran that failed due to a ferocious sandstorm that overturned US warfare and killed many including Pahlavi officers who accompanied US forces.
Planned by Joint Task Force (JTF) 1-79 as ‘Operation Rice Bowl’, the operation was designed as a complex two-night mission. The first stage of the mission involved establishing a small initial staging site inside Iran itself, near Tabas in the Yazd Province (formerly in the south of the Khorasan province) of Iran. The site, named Desert One, was to be used as a temporary airstrip for the USAF special ops MC-130E Combat Talon I penetration/transport aircraft and C-130 Hercules (later EC-130E) refueling aircraft, along with eight Navy RH-53D Sea Stallion minesweeper helicopters flown in by Marine Corps aircrews from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz stationed in the nearby Indian Ocean.
After flying in under radar and landing at Desert One, the C-130 Hercules would off-load men and equipment and refuel the arriving helicopters, which would undertake the actual rescue operation. After refueling the helicopters at Desert One, the plan was for the ground troops to board the helicopters and fly to Desert Two near Tehran the same night where the helicopters would be concealed. The next night, the rescuers would be transported to the embassy by assets in place and overpower the hostage guards and extract the hostages across Roosevelt Boulevard (the main road in front of the embassy) to a soccer stadium, where the helicopters would land and retrieve the entire force.
However, only the delivery of the rescue force, equipment and fuel by the C-130 Hercules occurred according to plan. An unexpected low-level intense sandstorm of the kind known as a haboob contributed to the reduction of the force by three of the eight RH-53D helicopters by the time the helicopter formation reached Desert One, behind schedule. The first helicopter was grounded and abandoned in the desert with equipment indicating a cracked rotor blade, and its crew picked up by another helicopter that continued the flight.
The second helicopter abandoned the flight and returned to the Nimitz with reported erratic instrumentation blamed on the highly elevated temperatures inside the haboob. The third helicopter arrived at Desert One with a malfunctioning primary hydraulics system and insufficient confidence in the secondary (backup) hydraulics system to continue. The first and third helicopters, which were abandoned, now serve with the Iranian Navy.
Meanwhile, a fuel-smuggling tanker truck was blown up nearby with a shoulder-fired rocket as it tried to escape the site shortly after the first crews landed and began securing Desert One. The resulting fire illuminated the night-time landscape for many miles around, and actually provided a beacon to Desert One for the disoriented and dehydrated incoming helicopter crews, who flew in lower than the undetected C-130 Hercules flight because of miscommunicated instructions and faulty communications equipment, and subsequently encountered the sandstorm.
The passenger in the tanker truck was killed in the attack, while the truck’s driver managed to escape in an accompanying pickup truck, and was not considered to pose a security threat to the mission when evaluation deduced the clandestine smuggling nature of the tanker truck.
Soon after the truck driver escaped, a civilian Iranian bus with a driver and 43 passengers traveling on the same road, which served as the runway for the aircraft, was forcefully halted and held until the site was fully evacuated.
With only five helicopters remaining for transporting the men and equipment to Desert Two, and needing a predetermined minimum of six helicopters at that stage (Col. Beckwith’s plans anticipated losing additional helicopters at later stages, especially as they were notorious for failing on cold starts and they were to be shut down for almost 24 hours at Desert Two), Col. Beckwith recommended that President Carter abort the mission, and Carter did just that on April 25, 1980.
In order to complete the refueling of one of the helicopters, another had to be moved. That helicopter had blown a tire on landing and had therefore to be moved by “air taxi”. Its pilot became disoriented in the resulting dust cloud raised by its rotors and crashed into the C-130.
In the ensuing explosion and fire, eight US servicemen died: five USAF aircrew in the C-130, and three USMC aircrew in the RH-53D, with only the helicopter pilot surviving. During the following frantic evacuation of the scene by the C-130s, with many of the helicopter aircrews believing they were under attack due to munitions cooking off in the fire, five RH-53D helicopters were left behind mostly intact, some damaged by shrapnel, with the sixth helicopter on top of the C-130 where it crashed and was being consumed by the fire. Iranian gains from the failed operation total between four and six RH-53D helicopters. In their haste to evacuate the helicopters, the Marine aircrews inadvertently left behind classified plans that identified the Tehran CIA agents.
Since then, many books have been written in the incident describing it through different angles:
-Delta Force by Beckwith, Charlie A.
-Tabas Incident by Beckwith, Charlie A.
-Tabas a proof to chapter Fil by Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line
-The Book of Revolution and Struggle for Life by Emadodin Baghi
-Polka dot and the Sandstorm by Mohammad Anjoman Shoa
-The Tabas Tale by Ali Ashraf Pargari
-The Eagle in the fire by Abbas Aghaei