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mander, this problem remains essentially unresolved today, almost 20 years later.
E. THE IRAN HOSTAGE RESCUE MISSION On April 24, 1980, U.S. military forces undertook the rescue of 53 Americans who had been held hostage in Tehran, Iran, since November, 1979. Code-named Operation Eagle Claw, the mission not only failed to free the American prisoners but ended tragically in the deaths of eight U.S. servicemen as well. Although several problems contributed to the failure of this heroic effort, this paper will only seek to identify and describe its organizational deficiencies. 1. Planning
Shortly after the takeover of the American Embassy, President Carter directed the Department of Defepse to plan a rescue operation that could be undertaken if diplomatic efforts to free the prisoners failed. A Concept Plan (CONPLAN) to counter terrorism had already been approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and, therefore, was available for use in planning this particular contingency. The CONPLAN offered a framework for organizing, planning, training, and executing military responses to terrorist actions. However, the Joint Task Force (JTF) that was established to carry out the rescue mission adopted very little of the JCS CONPLAN; instead, the JTF improvised and relied upon ad hoc arrangements to perform most of its tasks. The report of the Special Operations Review Group that was commissioned by the JCS to examine the rescue operation explained that:
major areas of endeavor, such as task organization planning, integration of concurrent planning by subordinate units, and determination of support and requirements, were compartmentalized and reliant upon ad hoc arrangements. (August 1980, page 15) (This report will subsequently be referred to as the "Holloway Report" after the Review Group's Chairman,
Admiral James L. Holloway, III, USN (Retired).) Much of the planning of the Joint Task Force was focused on the best means to transport the rescue force deep into Iran to Tehran and back again. A preliminary assessment” prepared under the direction of the JCS soon after the rescue operation explained the Task Force's major planning problem:
it became clear early in the planning effort that a helicopter-supported operation offered the best prospects for success. Due to the distances involved, a corollary to this realization was that, at some point, a helicopter force would have to be refueled enroute from its launch point to its destination in the vicinity of Tehran. A major portion of the planning effort was focused on finding the best combination of location, tactics, and equipment to make the refueling, as well as the remainder
of the mission, militarily feasible. (May 6, 1980, pages 1-2) The plan that eventually evolved from this planning effort required a complex series of ground and air movements, involving personnel and equipment from all four Services. In his book, The
Iranian Rescue Mission: Why It Failed, Paul B. Ryan outlined the plan:
The rescue plan called for six giant C-130 transport planes to lift the men, equipment, and helicopter fuel from an Egyptian air base to an island airfield off Oman for a refueling stop.
a The planes would then fly to a secret landing strip in Iran, designated “Desert One", 265 nautical miles from Tehran. There they would be joined by eight Sea Stallion helicopters launched three hours earlier from the aircraft carrier Nimitz, on station in the Arabian Sea. The rescue force would then transfer to the helicopters and fly to Desert Two, a remote mountain hideaway 50 miles from Tehran. The helicopters would be concealed at a site about 15 miles away. That evening the raiders would be clandestinely driven in vans and trucks to Tehran. About 11 p.m. that night, they would storm the compound, immobilize the guards, and free the hostages.
While the main group overran the embassy, a smaller band would break into the Foreign Affairs Ministry and rescue the U.S. charge d'affaires, Bruce Laingen, and two other Americans. Some forty minutes after the initial break-in, the raiders and hostages would board waiting helicopters at the embassy compound or, if the compound was not usable, at a nearby soccer stadium. If the Delta team, as the rescue group was called, found its way blocked by Iranian mobs, then two C-130 gunships, circling overhead, would immobilize the crowd with gatling guns, which fire 17,000 rounds per minute. Meanwhile, about eighty Rangers would be airlifted from Qena, Egypt, to an isolated desert airstrip at Manzariyeh, thirty-five miles south of Tehran. They would land, seal off the field, and await the arrival of C-141 Starlifters. Next, the helicopters would arrive and discharge their passengers. The helicopters would then be destroyed by their crews. A C-130 gunship would orbit overhead to cover the evacuation. Finally, the loaded transports would take off, presumably to return to Qena and free
dom. (1985, pages 1-2) 2. Training
The Joint Task Force headquarters in Washington supervised the training of the plan's disparate forces. After late November 1979, much of the training took place at a desert training site in the western United States. Although members of the JTF headquarters staff traveled to the training site to supervise specific exercises, the general responsibility for supervising training at the site was carried out, in part, by two officers who were advisors to General Vaught but who, at the same time, still worked in their regular duty assignments outside the JTF. The Holloway Report makes it clear that "neither was responsible for the overall management of joint training activities." (page 25)
Complicating the crucial task of joint training even further was the confusion that existed over who was in charge of the helicopter training. Apparently, during the first two months of training, more than one officer immediately below the Commander of the Task Force was thought to be responsible for preparing the helicopters and their crews. 3. Organizational Problems
The sad ending to this dangerous mission is well known. Paul Ryan briefly describes it at the outset to his book:
In the early dawn of 24 April 1980 (actually 25 April 1980), in the Iranian desert, a group of some 130 Army Green Berets, Rangers, drivers, and Iranian translators plus some 50 pilots and air crewmen were forced to abort the rescue of 53 Americans held hostage in Tehran. The commander on the scene made the decision reluctantly after three of his eight helicopters, for various reasons, were not able to complete the mission. Worse yet, as the evacuation got underway, a helicopter, maneuvering close to the ground, sliced into a large transport plane laden with fuel and ammunition. Both aircraft burst into flames, and eight men died. The remainder flew to safety, leaving behind five helicopters, weapons, communication equipment, valuable secret documents, and maps. . . . (The Iranian
Rescue Mission: Why It Failed, page 1) The most serious criticism of the organization of the rescue operation is the charge that all four Services insisted on participating in the mission even though the participation of all four was unnecessary or even harmful. In other words, each Service demanded “a piece of the action". In his position as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski was deeply involved in reviewing the plans prepared by the Defense Department. He made it clear in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee that he believes that those plans suffered from a JCS agreement to unnecessarily include forces from all four Services:
One basic lesson [to be learned from the failure of the mission] is that interservice interests dictated very much the character of the force that was used. Every service wished to be represented in this enterprise and that did not enhance cohesion
and integration. (SAŚC Hearings, Part 11, page 503) A surprising source of similar criticism was Major General John Singlaub, USA (Retired), who had been relieved of his position as Chief of Staff of the U.S. South Korean Combined Forces Command by President Carter in 1978:
In 1982, Singlaub appeared on the same BBC program as Admiral Holloway and Colonel Beckwith (Commander of the JTF ground forces component). Responding to a question on the role of each service in the assault, Singlaub surprisingly replied: "There were some political considerations. I think that an effort was made to get all of the services involved... went on to say that an operation in which Marine pilots flew Navy helicopters and carried Army troops supported by the Air Force "had a nice ring to it, in a public-relations sense”. But if this arrangement was a factor, and "there were some who thought it was a major factor”, then, he said, “it was wrong.” (The Iranian Rescue Mission: Why It Failed, page 132) Criticism of the Services' interest in getting "a piece of the action” largely results from the controversial selection of Marine pilots to join Navy pilots in flying Navy helicopters from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz into Iran. Apparently, Marine pilots were chosen for their experience in assault missions. However, even the Holloway Report, which criticized the mission in only understated and indirect terms, recognized that Air Force helicopter pilots with experience in long-range flying would have been better suited for the long-range demands of the rescue plan:
These USAF pilots, more experienced in the mission profiles envisioned for the rescue operation, would have probably progressed more rapidly than pilots proficient in the basic weap
ons system but trained in a markedly different role. (page 35) The report went on to explain that Air Force pilots would have far less difficulty in mastering a helicopter only slightly different than the one they normally flew (the Navy RH-53 and the Air Force H53 are variants of the same helicopter) than Marine pilots would have in mastering a mission very different than the kind they normally flew (long-range flight versus assault missions):
Experience gained in Project "Jungle Jim" (circa 1961) illustrated that learning new and vastly different complex mission skills is far more difficult than transitioning to an aircraft of
similar design and performance characteristics. (page 35) Former Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger recalled the lessons of the Sontay raid to make the same point about the choice of helicopter pilots:
Lesson No. 3 (from the rescue mission): Retention of successful tactics from the past requires an effective institutional memory. Mechanisms to prevent the loss of valuable experience can preclude falling into preventable errors. For example, the raid at Sontay prison in North Vietnam in 1970 was wellplanned and brilliantly executed. The distances were substantial. Air Force helicopters used were air-refuelable, and the crews had_many hours of night flying and refueling experience. Air Force pilots have had extensive experience working with Army combat units and in delivering them to the combat zone. Experience and trust go together. In a complex operation, the chain is only as strong as the weakest link. Clearly the helicopter link in the Iran rescue mission could have been strengthened by drawing on proved equipment and on experience. ("Some Lessons of Iran," The New York Times, May 6,
1980, page A27) The clear implication of this criticism is that Marine pilots were selected not because they could best contribute to the success of the operation but because the Marine Corps lacked any other role in the mission.
Although less important than the choice of helicopter pilots, two other problems illustrate organizational shortcomings of the Iran rescue operation. First, discarding most of the elements of the existing JCS plan for responding to terrorism may have hampered preparation for the mission. The Holloway Report concluded:
that application of an existing JCS CONPLAN and JCS/Service doctrinal precepts could have improved the organization, planning, and preparation of the force through unity of command and cohesion of effort. That, in turn, would have led to more effective command and control and enhanced over
all JTF readiness. (page 18) The natural temptation in designing a response to a particular crisis is to create an ad hoc organization with unique rules for command and control, supply, and training. However, as the Holloway Report points out:
Prolonged ad hoc arrangements often result in tasking from different sources and can cause confusion at the operating level. These situational arrangements may hinder preparation and can impact adversely on overall cohesion of effort. (page
18) In addition, the Joint Task Force could not be sure that events in Tehran would require it to attempt a rescue mission before it was completely ready; therefore, it could not afford to take the time necessary to improvise a "custom tailored" organization.
Second, the poor coordination of the joint training at the western desert training site illustrates the relative inexperience of the Services in training together instead of separately. Although the separate Service elements of the JTF exercised together, the critiques of those joint exercises were generally conducted at the permanent duty locations of the forces. The Holloway Report explains that:
There was limited opportunity for face-to-face exchange of views and problem solving that could have enhanced accomplishment of training objectives; e.g., more training on communications equipment and procedures to assure effective force
integration. (page 25) The failure of the Joint Task Force to centralize responsibility for joint training reflects the historical difficulty that the four Services have had in training together, even when such joint training was essential to the success of a specific operation.
Despite the courage of the servicemen involved in Operation Eagle Claw, it failed to achieve its purpose. Although it is difficult to discern how much of its failure can be attributed to the organizational problems highlighted here, there is no doubt that they contributed to its tragic outcome.
F. THE GRENADA OPERATION On October 25, 1983 elements of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps assaulted the island of Grenada in the Caribbean. The operation, code-named URGENT FURY, must be viewed as a success. The principle missions—the rescue of the American medical students, the restoration of democracy and the expulsion of Cuban forces-were accomplished rapidly and with relatively little loss of life (18 U.S. servicemen killed and 116 wounded).
The operation was planned and conducted with extraordinary speed. On October 14, the National Security Council instructed the Joint Chiefs to begin planning for the evacuation of American citi