At 0721 hours on April 5, 1992 that coincided with “Eid Fetr”, the Muslim ceremony for terminating a month of fasting, the Iranian regime launched a terrorist attack on Camp Ashraf of the National Liberation Army of Iran (NLA) with 13 warplanes and dropped 30 tons of bombs on the Camp. Iran deployed nine Phantom F4 bombers, three F5 Tigers and an RF4 Reconnaissance Phantom in the air strike.
The warplanes took off from Nozheh Airbase in Hamadan and Vahdati Airbase in Dezful. Breaching the border at Baweissi near Qasr-e-Shirin, they flew over the Iraqi Kurdish regions and attacked Camp Ashraf. The air strikewas carried out in three stages and lasted until 0810 hours. The flight crews were selected from the highest-ranking Air Force operation commanders including Col. Ghassem Amini, deputy commander of Nozheh Airbase in Hamadan, whose warplane was shot down by the NLA combatants and he was taken captive by the NLA.
Casualties and Losses
During the air strike, a PMOI/MeK member called Muhammad Hussein Nik Peyman was killed and a few more were injured.
A few months later, a shepherd came across a cluster bomb left over from the air strike outside the Camp and was killed.
Planning the Air strike
The following information was obtained from Col. Ghassem Amini whose warplane was shot down by the NLA combatants and he fell captive along with his co-pilot.
1- Planning the Air strike:
The air strikeoperation on Camp Ashraf was planned by the Air Force general staff and then studied and approved by the Supreme National Security Council attended for the first time by Khamenei. The Nozheh Airbase in Hamadan was chosen as the operation center and the flight base for the air strike.
To keep the operation activities secret and to make everything look normal, a meeting was held in Tehran on March 8, 1992 with the Air Force’s departments. Mustafa Ardestani, deputy commander of the Air Force, cancelled all the leaves and put all the airbases on alert. The preparation process for 24 Phantom warplanes had started. According to the plan, Bandar Abbas Airbase was ordered to prepare six F4D planes, Bushehr Airbase six F4E planes and Nozheh Airbase in Hamadan eleven RF4E reconnaissance planes. Moreover, the graduation ceremony which was scheduled to be held after the Muslim month of Ramadan was held on March 20, 1992 based on a directive issued to Nozheh Airbase in Hamadan by Mansoor Sattari, the commander of the Air Force.
Reza Pardis, the air base commander, had told Colonel Ghassem Amini, the pilot who was assigned to accomplish the mission, that the operation’s target was particularly Camp of the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI/MeK). Colonel Amini’s warplane was shot down and he was taken captive by the NLA combatants.
The time of the operation was chosen to be one hour after the Iranian New Year. It was also planned that Sattari be present in the graduating ceremony and give the awards of the new pilots. But the plan was postponed for undeclared reasons.
On March 19, 1992, four F4 warplanes took off from Bandar Abbas Airbase and landed in Nozheh Airbase in Hamadan. Knowing that the plan had been postponed, Col. Amini ordered the warplanes to return to their base.
To pretend that everything was normal, Sattari took off from Tehran by a Falcon jet and arrived in Nozheh Airbase in Hamadan accompanied with the following officers to present the awards to the new graduates:
• Brig. Gen. Assareh, Assistant Chief of Staff, Logistics, IRI Air Force
• Brig. Gen. Shoja’ee, Engineering Department, IRI Air Force
• Brig. Gen. Nadir Poor, Protection Department, IRI Air Force
• Brig. Gen. Yamini, Air Defense Commander
• Brig. Gen. Naderi, the 2nd Airbase Commander
Following the ceremony, the personnel were given their New Year leaves and the airbase conditions went back to normal.
2- Planning the Air strike for April 5, 1992:
Following the cancellation of the first plan, Col. Amini went on holiday for seven days to Mahallat, a city in the Central province and later returned to the base. He stayed there until March 31, 1992 and again left for Tehran ¬- ostensibly for holiday - where he stayed until April 4, 1992. Col. Amini said: “The idea and the order to accomplish the operation must have been issued personally by Khamenei. Most probably, Brig. Gen. Hassan Firouz Abadi was commanding the operation.” The following people, too, were also involved in the plan:
Brig. Gen. Hassan Firouz Abadi, Joint Chief of Staff, Army Brig. Gen. Mansoor Sattari, Commander, Air Force
Brig. Gen. Mustafa Ardestani, Air Force
Brig. Gen. Siroos Baheri, Operation Department, Air Force
Brig. Gen. Mustafa Torabi Poor, Commander, Counter-Intelligence Brig. Gen. Asghar Sepid Mouy Azar, Air Force
A few members of the Intelligence Ministry were also took part in the operation.
The operation was studied by experts and different options were presented. Finally, the best formations and routes were discussed and decided upon. Accomplishing the mission would have been impossible without a precise intelligence work. Therefore, preparing the movement plan was deliberately cancelled to keep the information of the operation to the selected few.
On the eve of the operation on April 4, 1992, all the pilots involved were called to report to Nozheh Airbase in Hamadan at once. They were notified of the plan of the air strikeon Camp Ashraf.
A meeting was held by Brig. Gen. Sepid Mouy Azar at 2330 hours for half an hour where Brig. Gen. Reza Pardis, Brig. Gen. Baheri from Tehran and some members of the Intelligence Ministry dressed in civilian clothing were also present.
Subsequently, Brig. Gen. Siroos Baheri held a meeting for half an hour for all those involved in the plan and told them that the PMOI/MeK were the target of the air strike.
Brig. Gen. Reza Pardis also briefed the commanders on the take off time, separation time, the return route and the mid-air refueling. The commanders conveyed the same message to the crew. During the briefing for the pilots, the flight route, the Iraqi air defense, Camp Ashraf and the safe situation in Iraq’s Kurdish regions were explained. The pilots were told that there was nothing threatening them. The briefing sessions lasted until 0230 to 0300 hours on April 5, 1992 and then the personnel went to get some rest.
According to the following formation, the plan was supposed to be executed by 12 F4 warplanes in three teams of four:
Given the importance of the plan, an order was issued to observe radio silence throughout the operation, even on the target. Also, some code names were determined for emergency cases like cancellation of the plan, the weather conditions, crossing the border and returning to it, refueling, landing, etc. The code names were given to the pilots. Warplanes number 2 from team B and number 3 from team C mentioned in the table did not fly due to mechanical failures or lack of enough planes.
Executing the Plan
1. Briefing was done in three stages as follows:
a. General briefing by Brig. Gen. Sepid Mouy Azar
b. Operation briefing by Brig. Gen. Baheri about the general plan of the operation, routes and operation teams
c. Specialized briefing by the leaders on the details
The following people were also present in the operation briefings:
Col. Reza Khaleghi, Head of the Planning Office (Hamadan)
Col. Zanganeh Pour, Deputy Commander, Hamadan Airbase
Maj. Abdul Karimi, Pilot, Bandar Abbas Airbase
Brig. Gen. Abbas Pour Ali, Operation Department, Air Force
The briefing on the route to the target and the security during the flight included the following points:
In view of the no fly zone, Iraq cannot fly any warplanes. Flying through the Kurdish regions and noting that Iraq’s air defense missiles have been hit during the Gulf War, there would be nothing threatening us. Finally, if the warplanes flew at a suitable altitude, Camp Ashraf air defense would not pose any danger.
2- The Air strike Targets:
The targets were determined and each team was assigned separately:
It would take 34 to 36 minutes to reach the targets and the reason to choose different take off time was to avoid the planes’ interferences over the target. This would also make it possible to bomb once again the people leaving the trenches to help the injured.
Moreover, was calculated in the plan that every three minutes a number of F5 fighters would take off from Dezful Airbase to provide air protection for the Phantoms. In practice, however, this did not happen and it was only intended to boost the morale of the pilots involved in the operation. It was further calculated that two tanker planes would be flying over Kermanshah for mid-air refueling.
3- Preparations before Flight:
Noting the distance that every warplane had to fly, 1,700 pounds of fuel was needed for each. In case of any fuel shortage on the way back, there would be a tanker plane airborne at an altitude 20,000 ft. over Kermanshah for mid-air refueling.
Considering the maximum fuel available, the ammunition that each plane could carry was as follows:
• Each plane in team A: 12 Mk 82 destruction bombs (each weighing 500 lbs.)
• Each plane in Team B and C: 6 Mk 82 destruction bombs and CBU cluster bombs (each bomb weighing 560 lbs.)
The total ammunition:
• Mk 82 78 bombs
• CBU cluster 20
• The planes were also armed with 20 mm cannons and 630 rounds of ammunitions each.
Following the briefing session, the team leaders briefed the pilots and co-pilots on their targets; everyone marked the routes to and from the target as well as the landmarks on their maps. They also calculated the speed and the altitude relative to the routes and target and marked them on their maps.
4. Air strike Timetable
Team A: 0720 – 0730
Team B: 0740 – 0750
Team C: 0755 – 0810
5. The Results
• The bombing started at 0721 and lasted until 0810.
• According to the witnesses, in addition to nine F4 Phantoms, two F5 Tigers also took part in the air strike.
• During the bombing and after it, an REF4 was seen performing reconnaissance and aerial photography.
• After bombing the ammunition depot, the last warplane, while still in Ashraf airspace was shot down by the NLA combatants.
• Colonel Ghassem Amini, deputy commander of Nozheh Airbase in Hamadan, and his co-pilot were taken captive.
Some of the details of the massive ammunitions used in the air strike appear below:
a. Mk 82 Bomb
Weight: 500 lbs. (227 kg) Weight of explosives: 87 kg Length: 231 cm
Radius of shrapnel dispersion: 900 m
This is a highly explosive bomb which explodes on hitting the ground and the blast of the explosion travels to a considerable distance. The bomb shrapnel inflict casualties and damages on the people and the premises.
b. Cluster Bombs:
These bombs are huge and cylindrical in shape and contain a large number of bomb lets. The bomb lets are considered to have a high degree of lethal capability and used against troops and all kind of vehicles, including the armored.
c. SU.U 30
Weight: 326 -371 kg
Weight of shell: 74 kg
Weight of explosives: 252 kg
Length: 232 cm
Radius of shrapnel dispersion for bomb lets: 25 m