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U.S. airlifts disaster aid into Iran

First flights since failed hostage-rescue raid in 1980

An urban search and rescue team comprised mainly of Fairfax County firefighters left Saturday for Iran.
An urban search and rescue team comprised mainly of Fairfax County firefighters left Saturday for Iran.

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The death toll from the earthquake in the ancient Iranian city of Bam likely to rise.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Two U.S. military cargo planes landed in Iran on Sunday, carrying the first of more than 200 personnel and over 150,000 pounds of medical supplies to provide emergency assistance for the victims of Friday's earthquake that killed thousands in Bam, Iran.

The flights are the first U.S. military flights into Iran since an elite force tried to rescue U.S. hostages there in April 1980. That mission ended in a fiery crash in a remote part of the country known afterward as Desert One.

Two U.S. military C-130 planes landed at Kerman airfield Sunday morning, about 120 miles from Bam, airport officials said. A third plane was expected to follow shortly, with at least two other flights arriving later.

Operation Desert One was a failed, top-secret mission designed to rescue 54 Americans taken hostage November 4, 1979, when militant students, stirred by anti-American sentiments during the Islamic revolution that overthrew Reza Shah Pahlavi, seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

Mechanical problems in Iran's Great Salt Desert caused the mission to be aborted. As one of six helicopters departed, it crashed into a C-130 cargo plane, causing an explosion that killed eight servicemen.

The United States did not try a second rescue attempt. The hostages were eventually released on January 20, 1981, after 444 days in captivity.

The United States broke diplomatic ties with Iran shortly before the Desert One fiasco. President Bush has labeled Iran part of the "axis of evil."

State Department spokesman Lou Fintor cautioned that the U.S. efforts to help alleviate human suffering in Bam "will not alter the tone or intensity of our dialogue with the Iranians on other matters of grave concern."

The earthquake -- with a magnitude of 6.6 -- hit the ancient city before dawn, killing between 5,000 and 20,000 people. As many as 30,000 people are believed to have been injured, the Interior Ministry said.

The flights carrying personnel to assist victims of the earthquake departed from three U.S. Air Force bases -- Dover, March and Westover -- on Saturday, a Bush administration official said.

The medical supplies would be sent from U.S. bases in Kuwait, the White House said.

The plans were made after extensive discussions between the U.S. and Iranian governments, the Bush administration official said.

Although there is generally no such direct contact, "we retain the option of using a variety of communications channels and given the urgency of this situation we deemed direct contact to be the most appropriate channel," said Fintor. "There is no political angle."

In a statement, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the United States is working with "Iranian authorities, the United Nations, and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent to rapidly deploy humanitarian assistance.

"The United States will deploy civilian teams composed of more than 200 experts in urban search and rescue, emergency surgery, and disaster response coordination."

U.S. aid workers will join in the efforts of Iran's Red Crescent members and other relief workers.
U.S. aid workers will join in the efforts of Iran's Red Crescent members and other relief workers.

That includes medical response teams from Boston, Massachusetts, and local disaster response teams from Los Angeles, California, and Fairfax County, Virginia, the statement said.

"The United States will continue to work with Iranian authorities and international relief organizations to help the people of Iran during this challenging time."

At least one U.S. citizen was killed in the earthquake and another was injured, a State Department official said.

The two Americans -- whose names were not released -- were in Bam to visit the city's 2,000-year-old citadel, the State Department official said.

The injured American has been hospitalized and is receiving medical care for injuries that are serious but not life-threatening, the department official said.


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