From Desert One to Abbottabad

On April 24, 1980, the world awoke to news that the a rescue mission launched by the United States to retrieve its Iranian Embassy personnel who were being held hostage in Tehran had ended in a deadly failure. While at an intermediate position known as Desert One, a series of mishaps caused the mission to be aborted. In the scramble to get out of Iran before being discovered, a Marine helicopter collided with an Air Force C-130 as both maneuvered around a desert landing strip. The resulting explosion killed nine service members and the rush to depart caused much equipment and classified material to fall into Iranian hands. It was not until January of 1981 on the day Ronald Reagan took the oath of office as president that the US hostages were finally released.

Part of the problem of Desert One was that the assets for the mission – Army commandos, Marine helicopters, Air Force planes and Navy ships were cobbled together in an ad hoc manner, never having worked together before. From that fiasco, the American government and military learned a valuable lesson as to the almost unimaginably high level of training required to even have a chance to successfully execute that mission.

The fruits of that 1980 lesson were seen yesterday in the raid into Abbottabad, Pakistan that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. The details of the mission will perhaps never become fully known, although President Obama’s counter-terrorism expert John Brennan gave an extensive briefing today. Still, anyone with the slightest understanding of military operations know what a daring and risky mission this was. To fly into unknown territory on a moonless night and assault a compound that was designed and built to withstand just such an assault. It was simply an incredibly bold undertaking with a remarkable result that was absolutely the outgrowth of three decades of post-Desert one preparation and training.