- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 19, 2005

It is astonishing to note it has been 25 years since American Special Forces were sent into the Iranian desert on an ill-fated mission to rescue U.S. hostages held in Tehran.

It is equally surprising that a quarter-century later, the nation of nearly 70 million is no closer to democracy or free and fair elections. It seems to me Iran’s Guardian Council has a problem. Obliged to hold a presidential poll, they removed more than 900 nominees — including 89 women — whittling the field to an approved list comprising current and former government security officials.

It is sobering to consider the Iranian people still suffer under an oppressive regime. But it is important we remember the American servicemen who made the ultimate sacrifice in Operation Eagle Claw. This covert operation on April 24, 1980, was the attempt to rescue the American hostages held in Tehran following the overthrow of the shah. Monday, the House of Representatives will vote on a resolution honoring the brave servicemen who made the ultimate sacrifice in that operation.

Logistically, Eagle Claw was fraught with problems. It was no small feat to move our task force of U.S. Army Special Operations Forces, Army Rangers, and Air Force Special Operations personnel thousands of miles. It was more challenging to remain undetected and land in a remote location, dubbed “Desert One,” in the Iranian desert.

En route, the task force encountered treacherous weather conditions and experienced mechanical difficulties. Only six of the eight helicopters arrived at Desert One. At the rendezvous, one helicopter lost its primary hydraulic system, rendering it unsafe to fly. The mission was aborted. Then the unimaginable happened: In appalling weather, a helicopter collided with a C-130 aircraft killing five airmen and three Marines.

The tragedy shocked and saddened the nation. But it also was a jolting wake-up call. Congress recognized our Special Operations Forces operated with poor and outdated equipment, and were harmed by significant funding shortfalls. Our frontline of defense was ill-equipped.

Moreover, Congress realized defense required more than debate and diplomacy. Congress made a series of crucial reforms, taking the first steps to rebuild the Special Operations Force structure. The U.S. Special Operations Command (U.S. SOCOM) was born to ensure the problems encountered with Operation Eagle Claw would not be repeated.

As the last 25 years has shown, the reforms worked spectacularly well. Like the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes, the Defense Department resurrected our Special Operations Command and provided it the necessary resources and training to create one of the world’s most potent military resources. The moves in Congress were supported by President Reagan, who believed America’s best days were ahead and that failures could be turned into successes.

Today, SOCOM is a critical component of our nation’s defense. Whether in desolate deserts in Iraq or in the cavernous mountains of Afghanistan, our Special Operations Forces operate under treacherous and forbidding conditions. Their bravery, sacrifice and tenacity are a testament to their dedication and patriotism. We recognize and appreciate their service and their contribution in the global war on terrorism.

We also honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of freedom. In particular, a quarter-century later, we honor the fallen of Operation Eagle Claw, who died trying to rescue fellow Americans held by a cruel regime in Tehran.

As we remember our American heroes, spare a thought for the Iranian people. A people who for the last 25 years have been terrorized by a regime whose unelected leaders police public life by silencing opposing voices, closing newspapers and television stations, jailing those who disagree and enforcing strict Islamic laws that limit women’s rights.

Will this obviously rigged election result be enough to keep an unelected cabal of 12 clerics intact? Only time will tell.

Jim Saxton, New Jersey Republican, is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee.

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