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Operation Earnest Will (24 July 1987 - 26 September 1988) was the U.S. military protection of Kuwaitimarker owned oil tankers from Iranianmarker attacks in 1987 and 1988, three years into the Tanker War phase of the Iran–Iraq War. It was the largest naval convoy operation since World War II.

The U.S. Navy warships that escorted the tankers, part of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, were the most visible part of the operation, but U.S. Air Force AWACS radar planes provided surveillance and Army special operations helicopters hunted for possible attackers.

In December 1986, the government of Kuwait asked the Reagan administration to send the U.S. Navy to protect Kuwaiti tankers. U.S. law forbade the use of Navy ships to escort civilian vessels under foreign flag, so the Kuwaiti ships were re-registered under U.S. flag.

Even before Earnest Will formally began, it became clear how dangerous Persian Gulfmarker operations would be. On 17 May, an Iraqi warplane fired two Exocet missiles at the guided missile frigateUSS Stark, killing 37 sailors and injuring 21. Iraqi officials said the targeting of the U.S. warship was accidental.

The USS Crommelin (FFG-37), USS Kidd (DDG-993), and USS Fox (CG-33) were the first U.S. Navy ships assigned to escort the Kuwaiti oil tankers. On the very first escort mission, on 24 July 1987, the Kuwaiti oil tanker al-Rekkah, re-flagged as the U.S. tanker Bridgeton, struck an Iranian mine damaging the ship, but causing no injuries. The Bridgeton proceeded under her own power to Kuwait, with the thin-skinned U.S. Navy escorts following behind to avoid mines.

On 15 October, the reflagged U.S. tanker Sea Isle Citymarker was struck while at anchor by an Iranian Silkworm missile, wounding 18. The U.S. Navy responded by destroying two Iranian oil platforms.

Earnest Will overlapped with Operation Prime Chance, a largely secret effort to stop Iranian forces from attacking Persian Gulf shipping. A dramatic moment of Prime Chance was the 21 September 1987 attack on the Iran Ajr, an Iranian ship converted for use as a minelayer. U.S. Army gunship crews used night-vision devices to watch the Iranian vessel lay several mines, then fired miniguns and rockets at it. A SEAL team and Special Boat Unit personnel landed aboard the vessel and seized it. Several Iranian sailors were rescued from the waters of the Persian Gulfmarker after leaping overboard during the attack. EOD technicians from EOD Mobile Unit 5 scuttled the vessel the following day.

On 14 April 1988, the American frigate USS Copeland, while on patrol, encountered trouble with its primary missile launcher. The Samuel B. Roberts, assuming Copeland's patrol area, struck an Iranian mine and was badly damaged. Four days later, U.S. forces retaliated with a one-day attack on Iranian warships, armed speedboats, and oil platforms used as naval bases. Dubbed Operation Praying Mantis, it was the biggest engagement of surface warships since World War II. Two Iranian ships were destroyed, and two American pilots died when their helicopter crashed.

On 3 July 1988, USS Vincennes shot down Iran Air Flight 655marker, an Airbus A300B2, over the Strait of Hormuzmarker after mistaking it for an Iranian F-14. 290 people were killed.

These two side effects of Earnest Will — Praying Mantis and the downing of the airliner — helped convince Iran to agree to a ceasefire on 20 August 1988, ending its eight-year war with Iraq.

On 26 September 1988, USS Vandegrift escorted the last tanker of the operation to Kuwait.

See also


  1. “Kuwaiti Call for Help Led to U.S. Role in Gulf,” Los Angeles Times, 4 July 1988.

External links

Further reading

  • (about the Stark attack)
  • (U.S. Navy operations in the Gulf)
  • (Detailed look at guided missile frigate's operations and mine attack)
  • (Account of Operation Praying Mantis)
  • (Puts Operation Praying Mantis in broader historical context)

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