TEHRAN, Iran – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad marked the 27th anniversary of the failed U.S. operation to rescue 53 American hostages from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by saying God and Iran had "clobbered the enemy," state radio reported Wednesday.
Though the anniversary is not a national holiday or celebrated by most Iranians, the government annually marks Operation Eagle Claw, which ended in a helicopter crash that killed eight U.S. servicemen.
"On such a day, the enemy, using the most advanced weapons, invaded this land. But heavenly aides supported the Iranian nation and clobbered the enemy in the desert," the radio quoted Ahmadinejad as saying during a Cabinet meeting in Tehran.
As in past years, hundreds of mostly hard-line Iranians gathered to protest U.S. foreign policy about 370 miles southeast of Tehran at the site where the U.S. helicopter crashed into a plane after the rescue mission was aborted, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
The hostage crisis began Nov. 4, 1979, when the U.S. embassy was seized in Tehran. One hostage was freed because of illness after the rescue attempt, and the other 52 were released as Ronald Reagan was being inaugurated in 1981.
Several U.S. diplomats who were taken hostage have said they believe that Ahmadinejad was among the kidnapers. The Iranian news media have identified Ahmadinejad as a student leader but said he opposed the embassy takeover.
The Eagle Claw mission was first aborted after mechanical problems disabled two of eight U.S. Navy and Marine Corps helicopters and a third turned back in the face of a dust storm. The five remaining helicopters were one short of the minimum needed to continue.
But the operation turned from a failure into a fiery disaster when one helicopter tried to leave Desert One, a desolate rendezvous spot in Iran, in a cloud of dust but crashed into a parked C-130 cargo plane loaded with 44 troops.
Washington and Tehran have not had diplomatic relations since 1979. Tensions have escalated since Ahmadinejad, a hard-liner, was elected in 2005, and the two countries are at odds over Tehran's disputed nuclear program and involvement in neighboring Iraq.
Washington accuses Tehran of secretly trying to develop atomic weapons and helping to fuel Shiite militias in Iraq. Iran denies both charges.