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Operation Nimble Archer
Part of Iran-Iraq War, Operation Earnest Will
Operation Nimble Archer DN-SC-88-01042.jpg
An Iranian oil platform set ablaze after shelling by American destroyers.
Date19 October 1987
LocationPersian Gulf
Result Indecisive; the International Court of Justice and Memorial site ruled no gain from both sides.[1]
 United States  Iran
6 warships
3 aircraft
2 oil platforms
Casualties and losses
18 (Events leading up to the Operation. Not sustained during the Operation itself.) 2 oil platforms heavily damaged

Operation Nimble Archer was the October 19, 1987, attack on two Iranian oil platforms in the Persian Gulf by United States Navy forces. The attack was a response to Iran's missile attack three days earlier on the MV Sea Isle City, a reflagged Kuwaiti oil tanker at anchor off Kuwait. The action occurred during Operation Earnest Will, the effort to protect Kuwaiti shipping amid the Iran-Iraq War. Iran subsequently filed a lawsuit against the United States at the International Court of Justice.


On 16 October, Sea Isle City was in Kuwaiti waters, waiting to be loaded. It had been escorted there by U.S. warships, but was not under their protection at the time.[2] An Iranian Silkworm missile launched from the Iranian-occupied Al-Faw Peninsula hit the ship's wheel house and crew quarters, blinding its master, a U.S. citizen[3] and wounding 18 crew members. The damage to the ship would take four months to repair.[4]

In retaliation, U.S. officials decided to attack two platforms in the Rashadat oil field (named Rostam oil field before 1979). Having been damaged by Iraq a year earlier, the platforms were not producing oil, but had been used by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps for military purposes.[5]

Twenty minutes before the surface action group opened fire, USS Thach (FFG-43) radioed the platforms, telling the crews to abandon them. At 2 pm, four U.S. warships opened fire: USS Hoel (DDG-13), USS Leftwich (DD-984), USS Kidd (DDG-993), and USS John Young (DD-973).[1] One platform was boarded by U.S. special forces, who recovered teletype messages and other documents, then planted explosives to destroy the platform. Air cover was provided by USS William H. Standley (CG-32) and USS Gridley (CG-27), two F-14 Tomcat fighters and an E-2 Hawkeye from USS Ranger (CV-61). The high-explosive shells did negligible blast damage to the steel-lattice platforms, but eventually set them ablaze.[1] Lua error in Module:Location_map at line 510: Unable to find the specified location map definition: "Module:Location map/data/Iran" does not exist.

U.S. officials said the platforms were being used by Iranian forces as command-and-control posts with radars to track shipping in the area and communications gear to relay messages between the mainland and Iranian forces operating near the platforms. U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger said Iran used the facility to "launch small boat attacks against nonbelligerent shipping."[6][7][8][9]

International Court of Justice case

On 2 November 1992 Iran filed suit with the International Court of Justice, the legal salvo that began a decade of claims and counter-claims by the United States and Iran. On 6 November 2003 the International Court of Justice ruled in favor of neither party, saying that "the actions of the United States of America against Iranian oil platforms on 19 October 1987 (Operation Nimble Archer) and 18 April 1988 (Operation Praying Mantis) cannot be justified as measures necessary to protect the essential security interests of the United States of America." The Court also ruled that it, "...cannot however uphold the submission of the Islamic Republic of Iran that those actions constitute a breach of the obligations of the United States of America under Article X, paragraph 1, of [the Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights Between the United States of America and Iran],"[which?] regarding freedom of commerce between the territories of the parties, and that, accordingly, the claim of the Islamic Republic of Iran for reparation also cannot be upheld;"[10]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Peniston, Bradley (2006). "Photos: Operation Nimble Archer". No Higher Honor. Retrieved 4 February 2013. 
  2. Ship flying U.S. flag hit; 18 wounded; St. Petersburg Times. St. Petersburg, Florida. 17 October 1987. pg. 1.A
  3. Blinded U.S. Captain Recovers After Attack; Glass Sprayed Head When Missile Struck; Patrick E. Tyler. The Washington Post. Washington, D.C. 19 October 1987. pg. a.16
  4. Counter-Memorial and Counter-claim submitted by the United States of America. 23 June 1997.
  5. "Gulf of Conflict," Gulf of Conflict David B. Crist, Washington Institute for Near East policy, June 2009.
  6. U.S. Destroyers Shell Iranian Military Platform in Gulf; Retaliation for Silkworm Attack Called "Measured and Appropriate"; Molly Moore. The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.: 20 October 1987. pg. a.01.
  7. The Gulf Punch, Counterpunch. TIME. Michael S. Serrill. 2 November 1987.
  8. U.S. Ships Shell Iran Installation In Gulf Reprisal. Steven V. Roberts. The New York Times. 20 October 1987.
  9. Better Lucky than Good: Operation Earnest Will as Gunboat Diplomacy. Naval Postgraduate School Thesis paper by Stephen Andrew Kelley, June 2007.
  10. International Court of Justice. Oil Platforms (Islamic Republic of Iran v. United States of America). Accessed 12 December 2006.

Further reading

External links

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