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James Carter: Operation Eagle Claw Essay

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Updated: Nov 18th, 2021


Title “James Carter: Operation Eagle Claw”

  • Introduction
  • Body
    • Overview: Causes And Consequences
    • Divisions Involved In The Event
    • Outcome And Impact On The Country
  • Conclusion


A president’s term in office is associated with significant events which require strategic planning and sustainable solutions. James Carter, the 39th U.S president who served between 1977 and 1981 is one of the presidents who experienced numerous major crises in their term in office. In the final year as a president, James Carter was confronted with various issues, including fuel shortages, holding of hostages by the Iranians and a failed rescue effort of the hostages. In this context we discuss the Operation Eagle Claw, the unsuccessful rescue attempt of the hostages during the administration of Carter; the units involved in the mission, significant history and its outcome.

Operation Eagle Claw was a US military strategy to liberate the 52 U.S citizens who were held hostage by Iranians mob on 24 April, 1980 in Tehran, U.S Embassy (Absolute Astronomy). The inability to execute this operation resulted to the formation of the special operations command also known as the USSOCOM and the U.S Army’s 160th Aviation Regiment. President Carter anticipated for the release to take place under his leadership, especially as the appointment of the 1980 presidential election by the Democrats neared. Nevertheless, no release occurred during his term despite ensuring that all the required negotiations were performed. The hostages were unconfined after 444 days; this was the time Ronald Reagan took office (January 20, 1981).

Overview: Causes and Consequences

After two days of taking U.S citizens hostage, Gen. Vaught prepared for rescue mission within the following five months. After the approval by Carter, the plan involved sending in airplanes and ground-based army rescuers to the neighborhood of Tehran, then executing an attack on the American embassy to claim the hostages. According to Bancroft, a revolution headed by Ayatollah had overpowered Pahlavi, the Iran shah eleven months earlier.

As a result the relationship between the U.S and Iran deteriorated as the new leader of Iran criticized the U.S for its longtime relation with the former shah. Due to medical complications, the former shah entered the U.S for treatment; the Iranians saw this as a recurrence of the U.S assistance that had placed the shah on leadership in 1953. Thus, the hostage taking was implemented.

Although 19 hostages were set free within a few weeks, the 52 that remained were seized for 444 days. As it became certain that the government of Iran was not in a position to release the hostages, United States under President Carter opted to hold Iranian assets both within the country and abroad. Bancroft asserts that diplomatic efforts were put in place by the United Nations and other private interveners, but the Iranian political elites were not willing to risk their popularity by releasing the hostages. This deadlock forced Carter to approve a rescue effort; The Operation Eagle Claw.

The operation was scheduled as a two-night assignment. The first part of this mission involved grounding a small startup base in the Iran, near the Tabas town. This site was indicated as Desert One and it was to be used as a brief landing site for the USAF special operations aircraft and Hercules refueling aircraft together with Navy and Marine aircrews from USS Nimitz that was based near Indian Ocean (Absolute Astronomy).

The next night, the rescuers would enter the embassy and overshadow the guards and. remove the hostages to a safe stadium for transportation back home. Other considerations like breach of information and delivery of rescue forces availability were contained. However, the unexpected occurred; three of the eight planes destined for the operation failed before entering Tehran, leading to the abortion of the mission. Eight men lost their lives during this event.

Divisions Involved in the Event

Apart from the President and the U.S state department being part of the whole event that unfolded during the last days of Jimmy Carter’s term, there were special units involved in the real rescue operation. According to Absolute Astronomy, the following were the units involved: 1. USS Nimitz, the Marine Department of South Carolina and Texas. 2. Delta Force, together with mission commander. 3. USS Coral Sea. 4. U.S Army Special Forces. 5. 75th Ranger Regiment. 6. USAF first combat group. 7. RH-53D Sea Stallions.

Outcome And Impact on the Country

When the failed rescue attempt was announced, the Iranians were alert to make sure that a second attempt was impossible.8 Americans and 1 Iranian were found dead by the Army of Iran. The failures of this operation lead to the establishment of multi service association also known as the USSOCOM (1987) and Special Forces called the Night Stalkers. On the American administration, much criticism was directed towards Carter on how the hostage crisis was handled; this made him loose popularity and eventually being defeated by Ronald Reagan in November 1980. After Reagan won, negotiations were put in place; which eventually resolved the crisis and made Iranians to free the hostages in January 20 1981. The U.S on the other hand approved the release of Iranian assets held in U.S banks.

The Operation Eagle Claw was seen as invaluable to American forces, though it was disastrous. For the years that followed, the relationship between the U.S and the countries from Middle East deteriorated. According to Moon, the problem that transpired during this event presented some difficulties in the mutual understanding of both countries involved. America viewed Shah as a representative of Iran while in the real sense the Iranian people were objecting both the Shah’s rule and the supremacy of America in the political affairs of Iran. Iranians saw Shah as representing the America hence bad relationship between Iran and America.


The Hostage crisis was a bitter test for James Carter’s administration; it lead to deaths and bad international relations. The lessons depicted from the event showed solemn scarcity in the American forces capability, thus forcing the political and military executives to implement changes in their department. This was the main contributor to the development of joint-leadership between the military and the political control.

Works Cited

Absolute Astronomy. . 2009. Web.

Bancroft, James. The Hostage Rescue Attempt in Iran, 1980. Web.

Moon, Samuel J. The Hostage Rescue Attempt: Historical Perspective. 2009. Web.

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