7/15/09 - operation praying mantis

In today's excerpt - 1988's little-known Operation Praying Mantis one of the more influential naval engagements in U.S. history:

"Early on the morning of April 18, 1988, Bosun's Mate Third Class Anthony Rodriguez got up and began to go about his business on the deck of the USS Wainwright which was sitting in the Persian Gulf, preparing to shoot an Iranian oil platform. ...

"Officially neutral, [in the then on-going Iran-Iraq War] the United States 'tilted' toward Iraq, and was escorting Kuwaiti oil tankers (which had been reflagged as American ships) through the Gulf to protect them from attacks. ...

"Four days earlier, an Iranian mine had torn a massive hole in the U.S. frigate Samuel B. Roberts. This morning's attack, named Operation Praying Mantis, would be retribution against the Iranians for that mine. ...

"At 7:55 A.M., Operation Praying Mantis began. The Wainwright and two smaller ships took positions around an oil platform and announced in Farsi and English that the crew had five minutes to get off. The crew asked for extra time to exit. The U.S. captain gave them about a half hour. At 8:30 the three ships began firing a thousand five-inch bullets at the platform. ...

"[At 9:00] Rodriguez heard someone scream 'video separation' which meant a missile had been fired [from an Iranian warship] at the Wainwright. The missile heading toward the ship was a U.S.-made Harpoon, which had been sold to Iran when the Shah was in power. ...

"As the day wore on, fights broke out all over the Gulf. As planned, three other U.S. ships attacked another oil platform named Salman. Then small Iranian speedboats shot at a U.S. helicopter, attacked a U.S. supply boat, and peppered an oil platform off the coast of Abu Dhabi with grenades and machine gunfire for four hours. An Iranian frigate fired on three navy jets, which shot it with laser-guided bombs before a U.S. warship sank it with a Harpoon missile. The Wainwright, though, wasn't done. Two Iranian F-4 Phantom jets (also purchased from the United States when the Shah was in power) came in to attack, and the Wainwright shot at them. Then U.S. bombers attacked one of Iran's largest warships. By the end of the day this accidental battle had become, according to naval historian Craig Symonds, one of the most influential naval engagements in U.S. history, right up there with the Battle of Midway. And it was the beginning of a complex, often contradictory U.S. military involvement in the Gulf. ...

"The nine-hour fight ended with two oil platforms burned, wiping out 150,000 barrels of oil production a day, six Iranian ships sunk or damaged, one Iranian plane down, and at least fifteen Iranians dead and twenty-nine wounded. Half of Iran's navy had been destroyed. A helicopter accident killed two Americans. ... Operation Praying Mantis was the beginning of it all, but it remains, in Rodriguez's words, 'one of those mini-epic battles not many people know about.'

"In the years since 1988, the U.S. military presence in the Gulf has grown from nothing, to $50 billion a year for the 1990s, to a full-scale occupation costing more than $132 billion a year in 2005. By one estimate, the hidden costs of defense and import spending are the equivalent of an extra $5 for every gallon of imported gasoline, a cost that doesn't show up at American gas pumps. ...

"I came across Operation Praying Mantis in a 2003 ruling by the International Court of Justice. The ruling, which didn't get much press in the United States, determined that the U.S.'s destruction of the Iranian platforms was not justifiable as self-defense."


Lisa Margonelli


Oil on the Brain: Petroluem's Long, Strange Trip To Your Tank


Nan A. Talese/Doubleday


Copyright 2007 by Lisa Margonelli


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