United States invasion of Panama

Invasion of Panama
Operation Just Cause Rangers 3rd sqd la comadancia small.jpg
US soldiers prepare to take La Comandancia in the El Chorrillo neighborhood of Panama City, December 1989
Date 20 December 1989 – 12 January 1990
Location Panama
Result United States victory[1]
 Panama (PDF)  United States
Commanders and leaders
Panama Manuel Noriega (POW) United States George H. W. Bush
United States Maxwell R. Thurman
16,000+ 27,684+
Casualties and losses
205-314 killed
1,906 captured
23 killed
324 wounded
Panamanian civilians killed according to[2]

US Military: 250
United Nations: 2,500
CODEHUCA: 2,500–3,000
Association of the Dead of 20 Dec.: 4,000
1 American civilian killed[2]
1 Spanish journalist killed[3][4]

The United States Invasion of Panama, code-named Operation Just Cause, was the invasion of Panama by the United States in December 1989. It occurred during the administration of U.S. President George H. W. Bush, and ten years after the Torrijos–Carter Treaties were ratified to transfer control of the Panama Canal from the United States to Panama by the year 2000.

During the invasion, de facto Panamanian leader, general, and dictator Manuel Noriega was deposed, president-elect Guillermo Endara sworn into office and the Panamanian Defense Force dissolved.



The Torrijos–Carter Treaties, which set in motion the process of handing the Panama Canal over to Panamanian control, was signed by President of the United States Jimmy Carter and President of Panama Omar Torrijos on 7 September 1977. U.S. relations with General Noriega spanned the latter half of the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union, when Noriega served as a U.S. intelligence asset and paid informant by the Central Intelligence Agency. Noriega worked as an asset for the US since 1967, including when Bush was head (1976–77) of the CIA.[5]

Noriega had sided with the US rather than the USSR in Central America, notably in sabotaging the forces of the Soviet backed government in Nicaragua, the Sandinistas, and the revolutionaries of the FMLN group in El Salvador. Noriega receiving only upwards of $100,000 per year from the 1960s until the 1980s, when his salary was increased to $200,000 per year, for his loyalty and efforts against the much better funded Soviet backed proto-autocrats.[6] Although he worked with the Drug Enforcement Administration to restrict illegal drug shipments, he was known to accept a very significant amount of financial support from drug dealers themselves simultaneously,[5] because he facilitated the laundering of drug money, and through him they received protection from DEA investigations due to Noriega's special relationship with the CIA.[7]

Beginning in 1986, U.S. President Ronald Reagan negotiated with General Noriega, requesting that the Panamanian leader peacefully step down after Noriega was publicly exposed in the New York Times by Seymour Hersh, and later exposed in the Iran-Contra Scandal.[8] Reagan pressured him with several drug-related indictments in U.S. courts, however, since extradition laws between Panama and the U.S. were weak, Noriega deemed this threat incredible, and did not bend to Reagan's efforts.[9] In 1988, Elliot Abrams and members of the Pentagon began pushing for U.S. invasion, but Reagan refused, due to Bush being tied to Noriega through his previous positions with the CIA and the Task Force on Drugs, and their negative impact on Bush's presidential campaign.[10] Later negotiations involved dropping the drug-trafficking indictments. In March 1988, an attempted coup against the government of Panama was resisted by Noriega's forces. In May '89, during the national elections, an alliance of parties opposed to the military dictatorship of Manuel Noriega counted results from the country's election precincts before they were sent to the district centers. Their tally showed their candidate, Guillermo Endara defeating Carlos Duque, candidate of a pro-Noriega coalition, by a nearly 3-to-1 margin. Endara was beaten up by Noriega supporters the next day in his motorcade.[5] Noriega declared the election null and maintained power by force, making him unpopular among Panamanians. Noriega's government insisted that they won the presidential election and irregularities had been on the part of U.S.-backed candidates from opposition parties.[11] Bush called on Noriega to honor the will of the Panamanian people.[5]

A US Marine Corps LAV-25 in Panama

In October 1989, Noriega foiled a second coup attempt by members of the PDF, led by Major Moisés Giroldi.[12] Pressure mounted on Bush, as the media labeled him a "wimp" for failing to aid Panama amidst his campaign rhetoric that called for a tough stand against known drug traffickers.[5] Bush declared that the U.S. would not negotiate with a known drug-trafficker and denied having any knowledge of Noriega's involvement with the drug trade prior to his February 1988 indictment, although Bush met with Noriega while Director of the Central Intelligence, and was the Chair of the Task Force on Drugs while Vice President.[13] President Bush's allegations that forces under Noriega's command had shot and killed an unarmed American serviceman, wounded another, arrested and brutally beat a third American serviceman and then brutally interrogated his wife, threatening her with sexual abuse, were cited by US Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering to the United Nations Security Council as sufficient grounds for invasion as an act of self-defense within Article 51 of the UN charter.[14]

Three incidents in particular occurred very near the time of the invasion, and were mentioned by US President George H.W. Bush as a reason for invasion.[15] In a 16 December incident, four U.S. military personnel were stopped at a roadblock outside PDF headquarters in the El Chorrillo neighborhood of Panama City. The United States Department of Defense claimed that the servicemen were unarmed and in a private vehicle and that they attempted to flee the scene only after their vehicle was surrounded by a crowd of civilians and PDF troops. The PDF claimed the Americans were armed and on a reconnaissance mission. None of the US personnel were injured or killed in the incident.[16]

U.S. Marine, 2nd Lt. Robert Paz, returning from a restaurant in Panama City, was stopped and harassed. As he attempted to flee, he was shot and killed.[17] The Los Angeles Times claimed that "according to American military and civilian sources" the officer killed was a member of the "Hard Chargers",[18] a group whose goal was to agitate members of the PDF. It was also alleged that the group's "tactics were well known by ranking U.S. officers" who were frustrated by "Panamanian provocations committed under dictator Manuel A. Noriega", although the group was not officially sanctioned by the military.[18] The US Marines denied that such a group ever existed.[19] According to an official U.S. military report "witnesses to the incident, a U.S. naval officer and his wife were assaulted by Panamanian Defense Force soldiers while in police custody".[20]

United States' justification for the invasion

The official United States justification for the invasion was articulated by President George H. W. Bush on the morning of 20 December 1989, a few hours after the start of the operation. President Bush listed four reasons for the invasion:[21]

  • Safeguarding the lives of U.S. citizens in Panama. In his statement, Bush claimed that Noriega had declared that a state of war existed between the United States and Panama and that he also threatened the lives of the approximately 35,000 US citizens living there. There had been numerous clashes between U.S. and Panamanian forces; one US Marine had been killed a few days earlier and several incidents of harassment of US citizens had taken place.
  • Defending democracy and human rights in Panama.
  • Combating drug trafficking. Panama had become a center for drug money laundering and a transit point for drug trafficking to the United States and Europe.
  • Protecting the integrity of the Torrijos–Carter Treaties. Members of Congress and others in the U.S. political establishment claimed that Noriega threatened the neutrality of the Panama Canal and that the United States had the right under the treaties to intervene militarily to protect the Panama canal.

U.S. military forces were instructed to begin maneuvers and activities within the restrictions of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties, such as ignoring PDF roadblocks and conducting short-notice "Category Three" military exercises on security-sensitive targets, with the express goal of provoking PDF soldiers. U.S. SOUTHCOM kept a list of abuses against U.S. servicemen and civilians by the PDF while the orders to incite PDF soldiers were in place.[10] In regard to the Panamanian legislature's declaration of a state of war between the United States and Panama, Noriega insists[22] that this statement referred to a state of war directed by the U.S. against Panama, in the form of what he claimed were harsh economic sanctions and constant, provocative military maneuvers (Operations Purple Storm and Sand Flea)[23] that were prohibited by the Torrijos-Carter Treaties. The U.S. had turned a blind-eye to Noriega's involvement in drug trafficking since the 1970s. Noriega was then singled out for direct involvement in these drug trafficking operations due to the widespread public knowledge of his involvement in money laundering, drug activities, political murder, and the abuse of human rights.[8] Panama, before the contended 'declaration of war' against the US, had instigated no hostile actions against any other country.

Bush's four reasons for the invasion provided enough justification for the invasion to establish bi-partisan Congressional approval and support for the invasion. However, the secrecy before initiation, speed and success of the invasion itself, and U.S. public support for it (80% public approval[citation needed]) did not allow Democrats to object to Bush's decision to use military force.[24] Contemporary studies reveal a high probability that Bush decided to invade for domestic political reasons, citing scarce strategic reasoning for the U.S. to invade and immediate withdrawal without establishing the structure to enforce the interests that Bush used to justify the invasion.[24]


Tactical map of Operation Just Cause showing major points of attack.
Elements of 1st Bn, 509th Infantry parachuting into a drop zone outside of Panama City.

The U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marines participated in Operation Just Cause. Ground forces consisted of combat elements of the XVIII Airborne Corps, the 82nd Airborne Division, the 7th Infantry Division (Light), the 75th Ranger Regiment, a Joint Special Operations Task Force, elements of the 5th Infantry Division (1st Battalion, 61st US Infantry and 4th Battalion, 6th United States Infantry (replacing 1\61st in September 1989)), 1138th Military Police Company of the Missouri Army National Guard, 193rd Infantry Brigade, 508th Infantry Regiment, 59th Engineer Co. (Sappers), Marine Security Forces Battalion Panama, and elements from the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Marine Fleet Antiterrorism Security Teams, 2nd Armored Infantry Battalion, and 2nd Marine Logistics Group.

The military incursion into Panama began on 20 December 1989, at 0100 local time. The operation involved 27,684 U.S. troops and over 300 aircraft—including C-130 Hercules tactical transports flown by the 317th Tactical Airlift Wing (which was equipped with the Adverse Weather Aerial Delivery System or AWADS) and 314th Tactical Airlift Wing, AC-130 Spectre gunship, OA-37B Dragonfly observation and attack aircraft, C-141 Starlifter strategic transports, F-117A Nighthawk stealth aircraft flown by the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing, and AH-64 Apache attack helicopter. The invasion of Panama was the first combat deployment for the AH-64, the HMMWV and the F-117A. Panamanian radar units were jammed by two EF-111As' of the 390th ECS, 366th TFW.[25] These aircraft were deployed against the 46,000 members of the Panamanian Defense Force (PDF).[26]

The operation began with an assault of strategic installations such as the civilian Punta Paitilla Airport in Panama City, a PDF garrison and airfield at Rio Hato, where Noriega also maintained a residence. U.S. Navy SEALS destroyed Noriega's private jet and a Panamanian gunboat. A Panamanian ambush killed four SEALS and wounded nine. Other military command centers throughout the country were also attacked. The attack on the central headquarters of the PDF (referred to as La Comandancia) touched off several fires, one of which destroyed most of the adjoining and heavily populated El Chorrillo neighborhood in downtown Panama City. During the firefight at the Comandancia, the PDF downed two special operations helicopters and forced one OH-6 Little Bird to crash-land in the Panama Canal.[20]

Fort Amador was secured by elements of the 1st Battalion (Airborne), 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment and 59th Engineer Company (sappers) in a nighttime air assault which secured the fort in the early hours of 20 December. Fort Amador was a key position because of its relationship to the large oil farms adjacent to the canal, the Bridge of the Americas over the canal, and the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. There were key command and control elements of the PDF stationed at Fort Amador.

Furthermore, Fort Amador also had a large US housing area that needed to be secured to prevent the PDF from taking US citizens as hostages. This position also protected the left flank of the attack on the Comadancia and the securing of the neighborhood El Chorrillos, guarded by Dignity Battalions: Noriega supporters the US forces sometimes referred to as Dingbats.

A few hours after the invasion began, Guillermo Endara was sworn in at Rodman Naval Station. It is generally agreed that Endara would have been the victor in the presidential election which had been scheduled earlier that year.[27] The 1138th Military Police Company of the Missouri Army National Guard set up a detainee camp at Empire Range to handle the mass of civilian and military detainees. This unit made history by being the first Guard unit called into active service since the Vietnam War.

Noriega's capture

Operation Nifty Package was an operation launched by Navy SEALs to prevent the escape of Noriega. They sank Noriega's boat and destroyed his jet at a cost of 4 killed and 9 wounded. Military operations continued for several weeks, mainly against military units of the Panamanian Army. Noriega remained at large for several days, but realizing he had few options in the face of a massive manhunt, with a one million dollar reward for his capture, he obtained refuge in the Vatican diplomatic mission in Panama City. The US military's psychological pressure on him and diplomatic pressure on the Vatican mission, however, was relentless, as was the playing of loud rock-and-roll music day and night in a densely populated area.[28] The report of the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff maintains that the music was used principally to prevent parabolic microphones from being used to eavesdrop on negotiations, and not as a psychological weapon based around Noriega's supposed loathing of rock music.[20] Noriega finally surrendered to the U.S. military on 3 January 1990. He was immediately put on an MC-130 Combat Talon aircraft and flown to the United States.

While some US Marine units continued their deployment, others that had been deployed since 3 October 1989, began returning on 12 January 1990. Along with units of the 193rd Infantry Brigade, 508th Airborne Infantry and 59th Engineer Company (Sapper), 16th Military Police Brigade, these units continued "police" patrols throughout Panama City, and areas west of the Canal, to restore law and order and support the newly installed government (under the moniker Operation Promote Liberty). Two of these units were 5th BN 21st Infantry (Light) of the 7th Light Infantry Division and the 555th Military Police, who had been in country since 20 December 1989. Another was Kilo Co. 3BN 6MAR, deployed initially on 1 October 1989, stayed deployed in the jungles surrounding Howard AFB until April 1990. All three of these units fought the PDF and then trained the Panamanian Police Force who were prior PDF.


There is more agreement about the number of United States military casualties but less agreement on the number of civilian or Panamanian casualties. Reports suggest that the U.S. lost 23 troops,[29] and 325 were wounded (WIA). The U.S. Southern Command, at that time based on Quarry Heights in Panama, estimated the number of Panamanian military dead at 205, lower than its original estimate of 314.

There has been considerable controversy over the number of Panamanian civilian casualties resulting from the invasion. The Southern Command estimated that number at 200. Civilian fatalities include an American schoolteacher working in Panama, and Spanish freelance press photographer José Manuel Rodríguez. According to official Pentagon figures 516 Panamanians were killed during the invasion; however, an internal Army memo estimated the number at 1,000.[30]

The UN estimated 2,500 deaths and the Association of the Dead of 20 Dec. estimated 4,000 deaths.[2] Commission for the Defense of Human Rights in Central American (CODEHUCA) estimated 2,500–3,000 deaths and Commission for the Defense of Human Rights in Panama (Comision Nacional de Derechos Humanos de Panama, CONADEHUPA) estimated 3,500 deaths.[31] Physicians for Human Rights in a report issued one year after the invasion,[32] estimated that "at least 300 Panamanian civilians died due to the invasion"; another by former Attorney-General Ramsey Clark claimed over 4,000 deaths.[33] The report also concluded that "neither Panamanian nor U.S. governments provided a careful accounting of non-lethal injuries" and that "relief efforts were inadequate to meet the basic needs of thousands of civilians made homeless by the invasion". The report estimated the number of displaced civilians to be over 15,000, whereas the U.S. military provided support for only 3,000 of these. Other estimates have suggested that between 2,000 and 5,000 civilians died, some arguing that this was a result of use of excessive force and novel weapons by the U.S military.[citation needed]

A US Army M113 in Panama

Human Rights Watch's 1991 report on Panama in the post-invasion aftermath, stated that even with some uncertainties about the scale of civilian casualties, the figures are "still troublesome" because

"[Panama's civilian deaths] reveal that the 'surgical operation' by American forces inflicted a toll in civilian lives that was at least four-and-a-half times higher than military casualties in the enemy, and twelve or thirteen times higher than the casualties suffered by U.S. troops. By themselves these ratios suggest that the rule of proportionality and the duty to minimize harm to civilians, where doing so would not compromise a legitimate military objective, were not faithfully observed by the invading U.S. forces. For us, the controversy over the number of civilian casualties should not obscure the important debate on the manner in which those people died."[34]

Origin of the name "Operation Just Cause"

Operation plans directed against Panama evolved from plans designed to defend the Canal. They became more aggressive as the situation between the two nations deteriorated. The Prayer Book series of plans included rehearsals for a possible clash (Operation Purple Storm) and missions to secure US sites (Operation Bushmaster). Eventually these plans became Operation Blue Spoon, which was renamed by President Bush as Operation Just Cause.

The Pentagon renamed the operation "Just Cause" in order to aid sustaining the perceived legitimacy of the invasion throughout the operation.[35] General Colin Powell said that he liked the name Operation Just Cause because "even our severest critics would have to utter 'Just 'Cause' while denouncing us."[36]

The post-invasion CMO (Civil-Military Operation) designed to stabilize the situation, support the government the United States has put into place and restore basic services was originally planned as "Operation Blind Logic" but renamed "Operation Promote Liberty" by the Pentagon on the eve of the invasion.[37]

The Panamanian name for the Operation is "The Invasion" (La Invasión).

In recent years, the naming of U.S. military operations has been the source of some controversy, both internationally and domestically (see Operation Enduring Freedom). At the time operations to depose Noriega were being planned, U.S. military operations were given meaningless names. Just Cause was planned under the name Blue Spoon, and the invasion itself incorporated elements of the Operation Nifty Package and Operation Acid Gambit plans.

The original operation where American troops were deployed to Panama in the spring of 1989 was called Operation Nimrod Dancer.[38]

Local and international reactions

The invasion of Panama provoked international outrage. Some countries charged that the United States committed an act of aggression by invading Panama and was trying to conceal a new manifestation of its interventionist policy of force in Latin America. On 29 December, the General Assembly of the United Nations voted 75–20 with 40 abstentions to condemn the invasion as a flagrant violation of international law.[39]

On 22 December, the Organization of American States passed a resolution deploring the invasion and calling for withdrawal of U.S. troops, in addition to a separate resolution condemning the violation of the diplomatic status of the Nicaraguan Embassy in Panama by US Special Forces who had entered the building.[40] At the UN Security Council, after discussing the issue over several days, a draft resolution demanding the immediate withdrawal of United States forces from Panama[41] was vetoed on 23 December by three of the permanent members of the Security Council,[42] France, United Kingdom, and the United States who cited its right of self-defense of 35,000 Americans present on the Panama Canal.[43]

Peru recalled its ambassador from the United States to protest the invasion.

Some claim that the Panamanian people overwhelmingly supported the invasion.[44] According to a CBS poll, 92% of Panamanian adults supported the U.S. incursion, and 76% wished that U.S. forces had invaded in October during the coup.[44] However, others dispute this finding, asserting that the Panamanian surveys were completed in wealthy, English-speaking neighborhoods in Panama City, among Panamanians most likely to support US actions.[45]

In 2006, one author opined "President Bush had not defended the hemisphere against European aggression under the guise of the Monroe Doctrine, or used the threat of Communist proliferation to take action, but instead he had used the US military to remove a hostile and problematic Latin American dictator from power because it was in the best interests of the United States to do so."[46]

Eighteen years after the invasion, Panama's National Assembly unanimously declared 20 December 2007, as a day of national mourning. The resolution was vetoed by President Torrijos.[47][48]

According to Robert Pastor, a former US national security advisor, 74% of Americans polled approved the action.[44] Studies by Jeff Cohen and others of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting have attributed this support to mainstream media intentionally excluding critical viewpoints during television reporting preceding the invasion.[49]

The Washington Post disclosed several rulings of the Office of Legal Counsel, issued shortly before the invasion, in regards to the U.S. armed forces being charged with making an arrest abroad. One ruling interpreted the Executive Order against Assassination of Foreign Leaders, which prohibits the intentional killing of foreign leaders as suggesting that accidental killings would be acceptable foreign policy. Another ruling concludes that the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which prohibits the armed forces from making arrests without Congressional authorization, is effective only within the boundaries of the US, such that the military could be used as a police force abroad — for example, in Panama, to enforce a federal court warrant against Noriega.[50]


20,000 were displaced from their homes. Disorder continued for nearly two weeks. A lawsuit brought by 60 Panamanian companies alleged negligence and disregard for property.

Guillermo Endara, in hiding, was sworn in as president by a judge on the night preceding the invasion. In later years, he staged a hunger strike, calling attention to the poverty and homelessness left in the wake of both the Noriega years and destruction caused by the U.S. invasion.[51] For nearly two weeks after the invasion, there was widespread looting and lawlessness, a contingency which the United States military indicated it had not anticipated.[citation needed] This looting inflicted catastrophic losses on many Panamanian businesses, some of which took several years to recover.

On 19 July 1990, a group of 60 companies based in Panama filed a lawsuit against the United States government in Federal District Court in New York City alleging that the U.S. action against Panama was "done in a tortious, careless and negligent manner with disregard for the property of innocent Panamanian residents". Most of the businesses had insurance, but the insurers either went bankrupt or refused to pay, claiming acts of war are not covered.[52]

About 20,000 people lost their homes and became refugees as a result of urban warfare. About 2,700 families that were displaced by the Chorrillo fire were each given $6,500 by the United States to build a new house or apartment in selected areas in or near the city. However, numerous problems were reported with the new constructions just two years after the invasion.[53]

The government of Guillermo Endara designated the first anniversary of the U.S. invasion a "national day of reflection". On that day hundreds of Panamanians marked the day with a "black march" through the streets of this capital to denounce the U.S. invasion and Endara's economic policies. Protesters echoed claims that 3,000 people were killed as a result of U.S. military action. Since Noriega's ouster, Panama has had four presidential elections, with candidates from opposing parties succeeding each other in the Palacio de las Garzas. Panama's press, however, is still subject to numerous restrictions.[54] On 10 February 1990, the Endara government abolished Panama's military and reformed the security apparatus by creating the Panamanian Public Forces. In 1994, a constitutional amendment permanently abolished the military of Panama. Concurrent with a severe recession in Latin America throughout the 1990s, Panama's GDP recovered by 1993, but very high unemployment remained a serious problem.

Noriega was brought to the US to await trial. One of the charges brought against him was dropped when what had been widely reported as 50 kilograms of cocaine, was revealed to be tamales.[55]


Information in this section[23]

September 1987

  • Senate passes resolution urging Panama to reestablish a civilian government. Panama protests alleged U.S. violations of the Canal Treaty.

November 1987

  • Senate resolution cuts military and economic aid to Panama. Panamanians adopt resolution restricting U.S. military presence.

February 1988

  • Noriega indicted on drug-related charges. U.S. forces begin planning contingency operations in Panama (OPLAN BLUE SPOON).

March 1988

  • 14 March: First of four deployments of U.S. forces begins providing additional security to U.S. installations.
  • 16 March: PDF officers attempt a coup against Noriega.

April 1988

  • 5 April: Additional U.S. forces deployed to provide security.
  • 9 April: Joint Task Force Panama activated.

May 1989

  • 7 May: Civilian elections are held; opposition alliance tally shows their candidate, Guillermo Endara, beating Noriega's candidate, Carlos Duque, by a 3 to 1 margin. The election is declared invalid two days later by Noriega.
  • 11 May: President Bush orders 1,900 additional combat troops to Panama (Operation Nimrod Dancer).[56]
  • 22 May: Convoys conducted to assert U.S. freedom of movement. Additional transport units travelled from bases in the territorial US to bases in Panama, and back, for this express purpose.

Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep 89

  • U.S. begins conducting joint training/freedom of movement exercises (Operation Sand Flea[56] and Operation Purple Storm[56]). Additional transport units continued from this date to travel repeatedly from bases in the territorial US to bases in Panama, and back, for this express purpose.

Oct 89

  • 3 Oct: PDF, loyal to Noriega, defeat second coup attempt.

Dec 89

  • 15 Dec: Noriega refers to himself as leader of Panama and declares a state of war with the U.S.
  • 16 Dec: Marine lieutenant shot and killed by PDF. Navy lieutenant and wife detained and assaulted by PDF.
  • 17 Dec: NCA directs execution of Operation JUST CAUSE.
  • 18 Dec: Army lieutenant shoots PDF sergeant. Joint Task Force South (JTFSO) advance party deploys. JCS designates D-Day/H-Hour as 200100R Dec 89.
  • 19 Dec: U.S. forces alerted, marshaled and launched.

D-Day 20 Dec 89

  • The United States Invasion of Panama begins. The operation was conducted as a campaign with limited military objectives. JTFSO objectives in PLAN 90-2 were to: Protect U.S. lives and key sites and facilities, capture and deliver Noriega to competent authority, neutralize PDF forces, neutralize PDF command and control, support establishment of a U.S.-recognized government in Panama, and restructure the PDF. Major operations detailed elsewhere continued to the 24 December
  • JCS directs execution of OPERATION PROMOTE LIBERTY

D-Day + 14, 3 Jan 90

  • Noriega surrenders to U.S. forces.

D-Day + 23, 12 Jan 90

  • Operation JUST CAUSE ends.[37]

D-Day + 4.5 years approx, September 1994

  • Operation PROMOTE LIBERTY ends.[37]

Major operations and U.S. units involved


All 27 objectives related to the Panamanian Defense Force were completed on D-Day: 20 December 1989; as initial forces moved to new objectives, follow-on forces from 7th Inf Div (L) moved into the western areas of Panama and into Panama City.

D-Day −1 19 Dec 89-

  • 3d Bde, 7th Inf Div (L) (4/17 Inf), Already deployed as part of peacekeeping forces in the region, Deploy to predetermined positions.
  • 2nd Bde, 7th Inf Div (L), Alerted for deployment. DRF 1 (3/27th Inf) and DRF 2 (2/27th INF) Deploys.

D-Day 20 Dec 89 –

  • 3d Bde, 7th Inf Div (L) (4/17 Inf) Begin operations in Colon City, the Canal Zone and Panama City.
  • Remainder of the 2d Bde, 7th Inf Div (L)(3/17th Inf) Deploys and closes in Panama.
  • Elements of the 317th and 314th Tactical Airlift Wings airdrop elements of the 75th Ranger Regiment on Rio Hato Airfield to neutralize a PDF unit, seize the runway, and secure Manuel Noriega's beachside facility. Special Operations Low Level (SOLL) II crews from the 317th then airland reinforcements.
  • C141s airdrop/airland elements of the 317th Combat Control Squadron, 507th Tactical Air Control Squadron, and combat units of the 82nd Airborne Division on Torrijos-Tocumen airfield to seize the runway and control tower.
  • 193d Infantry Brigade (Light) assaults Panamanian Defense Force (PDF) headquarters at La Commandancia, PDF Engineer Battalion, PDF 5th Company at Fort Amador, PDF units at Balboa and Ancon.

D-Day + 1, 21 Dec 89 –

  • JCS directs execution of OPERATION PROMOTE LIBERTY (renamed from Plan Blind Logic).
  • Panama Canal reopened for daylight operations.
  • Refugee situation becomes critical.
  • C Company, 5th Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment (193d Infantry Brigade) repels PDF counter-attack at the PDF DNTT headquarters and rescues Panamanian Vice President Ford whose convoy is also attacked
  • TF Bayonet begins CMO in Panama City.
  • Marriott Hotel secured and hostages evacuated.

D-Day + 2, 22 Dec 89 –

  • FPP established.
  • CMO and stability operations become primary focus.
  • 2d Bde, 7th Inf Div (L), deploys to Rio Hato.
  • 1st Bde (9th Regiment), 7th Inf Div (L), alerted for deployment.

D-Day + 3, 23 Dec 89 –

  • International airport reopened.
  • 2d Bde, 7th Inf Div (L) and SF elements begin ops in west.
  • 96th CA Bn assumes responsibility for DC Camp from USARSO.
  • 1st Bde (9th Regiment) 7th Inf Div (L) closes in Panama.

D-Day + 4, 24 Dec 89 –

  • Noriega enters Papal Nunciatura.
  • Money for Weapons program initiated.
  • Combined U.S./FPP patrols begin.

D-Day + 5, 25 Dec 89 –

  • Rangers secure David.
  • Operations in western Panama continue successfully.

D-Day + 14, 3 Jan 90 – Noriega surrenders to U.S. forces.

D-Day + 23, 12 Jan 90 – Operation JUST CAUSE ends.
Above information[23]

D-Day + 4.5 years approx, September 94 – Operation PROMOTE LIBERTY ends.[37]

United States military forces involved in Operation Just Cause

US soldiers at La Comandancia

United States Southern Command[57][58]

  • United States Army South (USARSO)
    • XVIII Airborne Corps – Joint Task Force South
      • 525th Military Intelligence Brigade (Combat Electronic Warfare and Intelligence) (Airborne)(FT Bragg)
        • 319th Military Intelligence Battalion (Operations) (Airborne) (FT Bragg)
          • A Co. 319th MI BN (Corps Tactical Operations Support Element)
          • B Co. 319th MI BN (Signal)
        • 519th Military Intelligence Battalion (Tactical Exploitation) (Airborne) (FT Bragg)
          • A Co 519th MI BN (Interrogation)
          • B Co. 519th MI BN (Counterintelligence)
          • C Co. 519th MI BN (SIGINT and Voice Intercept)
      • 16th MP Brigade Fort Bragg
      • 1109th Signal Brigade
          • 35th Signal Brigade (25th Signal Battalion/426th Signal Battalion) Fort Bragg North Carolina
      • 142nd Medical Battalion
      • 324th Support Group
      • 470th Military Intelligence Brigade
      • 193rd Infantry Brigade – Task Forces Bayonet
      • 7th Infantry Division (Light) – Task Force Atlantic
        • A Troop, 2nd Squadron, 9th Cavalry
        • 2nd Brigade
          • 5th Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment
          • 3rd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment (DRF 1)
          • 6th Battalion, 8th Field Artillery Regiment
          • A Battery, 2-62d ADA
          • B Company, 13th Engineer Battalion
          • B Company, 7th Medical Battalion
          • B Company, 707th Maintenance Battalion
          • B Company, 7th Supply and Transportation Battalion
        • 3rd Brigade
          • 4th Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment
            • C Company, 2d Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment
          • 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment – Detach from 82nd ABN Div
          • B Battery, 7th Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment
          • B Battery, 2d Battalion, 62nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment
          • C Company, 13th Engineer Battalion
          • C Company, 7th Medical Battalion
          • C Company, 707th Maintenance Battalion
          • C Company, 7th Supply & Transportation Battalion
          • 3d Platoon, Company B, 127th Signal Battalion
        • 127th Signal Battalion (-)
        • 13th Engineer Battalion (-)
        • 7th Military Police Company (-)
        • 107th Military Intelligence Battalion (-)
        • 5th Public Affairs Detachment
      • 82nd Airborne Division – Task Force Pacific
        • 1st Brigade
          • 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment
          • 2d Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment
          • 4th Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment (-)
            • A Company, 3d Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment
          • A Battery, 3d Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment
          • A Battery, 3d Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment
          • C Company, 3d Battalion, 73d Armored Regiment (-)
          • A Company, 307th Engineer Battalion
          • A Company, 782d Maintenance Battalion
          • B Company, 307th Medical Battalion
          • A Company, 407th Supply & Services Battalion
          • A Company, 313th Military Intelligence Battalion
        • 1st Brigade, 7th Infantry Division
          • 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment
          • 2d Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment
          • 3d Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment
          • A Company, 13th Engineer Battalion
          • A Company, 707th Maintenance Battalion
          • A Company, 7th Medical Battalion
          • A Company, 7th Supply and Transportation Battalion
          • 1st Platoon, B Company, 127th Signal Battalion
        • Company B, 82d Signal Battalion (-)
        • 82d Military Police Company (-)
        • 511th Military Police Company – Fort Drum
      • Aviation Brigade, 7th Infantry Division – Task Force Aviation
        • 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment
          • 195th Air Traffic Control Platoon
          • 214th Medical Detachment
        • 3rd Battalion, 123d Aviation – Task Force Hawk (Fort Ord)
          • E Company, 123d Aviation Regiment (-)
        • 1st Battalion, 82d Aviation Regiment – Task Force Wolf (Fort Bragg)
          • 1st Battalion, 82d Aviation Regiment (-)
            • Troop D, 1st Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment
          • 1st Battalion, 123d Aviation Regiment (-)
          • Company D, 82d Aviation Regiment (-)

United States Marine Corps

  • 6th Marine Expeditionary Battalion – Task Force Semper Fi (MARFOR)
    • I Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment
    • K Company, 3d Battalion, 6th Marines
    • Company D, 2d Light Armored Infantry Battalion (-)
    • G and H Detachment, Brigade Service Support Group 6
  • 1st Platoon, Fleet Antiterrorism Security Teams
  • Marine Corps Security Guard Detachment (U.S. Embassy)
  • Marine Corps Security Force Company Panama
  • 534th Military Police Company (U.S. Army) – Fort Clayton
  • 536th Engineer Battalion (U.S. Army)
  • 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment (DRF 2)

United States Special Operations Command

United States Air Force

  • 317th Tactical Airlift Wing
    • 39th Tactical Airlift Squadron
    • 40th Tactical Airlift Squadron
    • 41st Tactical Airlift Squadron
  • 314th Tactical Airlift Wing
    • 50th Tactical Airlift Squadron
  • 146th Tactical Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard
  • 815th Tactical Airlift Squadron
  • 63d Military Airlift Wing
  • 437th Military Airlift Wing
  • 512th Military Airlift Wing
  • 172d Military Airlift Wing
  • 363d Security Police Squadron K-9
  • 3d Mobile Aerial Port Squadron (3d MAPS)
  • 366th Tactical Fighter Wing
  • 37th Tactical Fighter Wing
  • 1352nd Combat Camera Squadron
  • 1361st Combat Camera Squadron
  • 836th Security Police Squadron
  • 63d Security Police Squadron
  • 552d Airborne Warning And Control Wing
  • 3rd Combat Communications Group

United States Navy

Related operations

  • Operation Acid Gambit – operation undertaken by 1st SFOD-D and the 160th SOAR to rescue Kurt Muse, a US citizen involved in the broadcast of anti-Noriega material, during Operation Just Cause.
  • Operation Blade Jewel- the return of military dependents to the US.[59]
  • Operation Nifty Package – operation undertaken by SEALs to capture Manuel Noriega or destroy his two escape routes, destroying his private jet at Paitilla Airfield and his gunboat, which was docked in a canal. Noriega surrendered to US troops on 3 January 1990.
  • Operation Nimrod Dancer – Reinforcing the forward deployed U.S. forces with a brigade headquarters and an infantry battalion task force from the 7th Inf Div (L), a mechanized infantry battalion from the 5th Inf Div (M), and a U.S. Marine Corps Light Armored Infantry (LAI) Company. Augmentation continued with units rotating from both divisions under Operation Nimrod Sustain.[59]
  • Operation Prayer Book
  • Operation Promote Liberty – operation to rebuild the Panamanian military and civilian infrastructure.
  • Operation Purple Storm – operation to assert, display and exercise U.S. freedom of movement rights with convoys traveling in and out of Panama for that express purpose.
  • Operation Sand Flea – operation to exercise, display and assert U.S. freedom of movement rights with convoys traveling in and out of Panama for that express purpose.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Operation Just Cause: the Invasion of Panama, December 1989
  2. ^ a b c The Panama Deception (1992 Academy Award Winning Documentary)
  3. ^ U.S. Sued in Death of a Journalist in Panama NY Times, 24 June 1990
  4. ^ 'It's Been Worth It': Bush – U.S. Troops Take Control of Panama LA Times, 21 December 1989
  5. ^ a b c d e Jones, Howard. Crucible of Power: A History of U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1897. 2001, page 494.
  6. ^ Frederick Kempe, Divorcing the Dictator (New York, Putnam, 1990), ppg 26–30, 162
  7. ^ Cockburn, Alexander, and Clair Jeffrey. St. Whiteout: the CIA, Drugs, and the Press. London: Verso, 1998. Print.
  8. ^ a b "The Contras, Cocaine, and Covert Operations." National Security Archive Electronic Briefing 2. Print.
  9. ^ Buckley, Kevin. Panama: the Whole Story. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991. Print.
  10. ^ a b Oakley, Robert B., Michael J. Dziedzic, and Eliot M. Goldberg. Policing the New World Disorder: Peace Operations and Public Security. Washington, DC: National Defense UP, 1998. Print.
  11. ^ a report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concluded that numerous human rights violations occurred in Panama during Noriega's government Report on the situation of human rights in Panama. 9 November 1989.
  12. ^ Yates, Lawrence A., The US Military Intervention in Panama: Origins, Planning and Crises Management, June 1987 – December 1989. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 2008.
  13. ^ "The Noriega Challenge to George Bush's Credibility and the 1989 Invasion of Panama". 2000.
  14. ^ United Nations Security Council Verbatim Report meeting 2899 page 24, Mr Pickering United States of America on 20 December 1989 (retrieved 28 August 2008)
  15. ^ Federal News Service (21 December 1989). "Fighting in Panama: The President; A Transcript of Bush's Address on the Decision to Use Force in Panama". New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=950DE4D8143FF932A15751C1A96F948260. 
  16. ^ Facts On File World News Digest, 22 December 1989, "U.S. Forces Invade Panama, Seize Wide Control; Noriega Eludes Capture." FACTS.com [1].
  17. ^ The Battle for Coco Solo Panama, 1989 by Evan A. Huelfer, Infantry Magazine, Jan–April, 2000
  18. ^ a b Los Angeles Times, '22 December 1990, "Some Blame Rogue Band of Marines for Picking Fight, Spurring Panama Invasion", Kenneth Freed.
  19. ^ Washington Post in The Panama Deception article, accessed 29 September 2008.
  20. ^ a b c Ronald H. Cole, Joint History Office, Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Operation Just Cause: Panama" (PDF). http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/jel/history/justcaus.pdf. 
  21. ^ New York Times, 21 December 1989, "A Transcript of President Bush's Address on the Decision to Use Force".
  22. ^ Noriega, Manuel and Eisner, Peter. America's Prisoner — The Memoirs of Manuel Noriega. Random House, 1997.
  23. ^ a b c Operation Just Cause Historical Summary at GS.Org
  24. ^ a b Cramer, J. K. ""Just Cause" or Just Politics?: U.S. Panama Invasion and Standardizing Qualitative Tests for Diversionary War." Armed Forces & Society 32.2 (2006): 178–201. Print.
  25. ^ "366TH FIGHTER WING HISTORY". US Air Force. http://www.mountainhome.af.mil/library/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=4278. Retrieved 9 April 2010. 
  26. ^ Estados Unidos invade Panamá Crónica de una invasión anunciada, Patricia Pizzurno and Celestino Andrés Araúz. According to this piece, the PDF had 46,000 troops of which all were trained for combat. "Para entonces las Fuerzas de Defensa poseían 16.000 efectivos, de los cuales apenas 3.000 estaban entrenados para el combate."
  27. ^ Los Angeles Times, 21 December 1989, "Combat in Panama, Operation Just Cause".
  28. ^ Baker, Russell (3 January 1990). "OBSERVER; Is This Justice Necessary?". The New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE5DF123FF930A35752C0A966958260. Retrieved 9 November 2007. 
  29. ^ "US Invasion of Panama 1989". Wars of the World. http://www.onwar.com/aced/data/papa/panamaus1989.htm. 
  30. ^ John Lindsay-Poland (2003). Emperors in the Jungle: The Hidden History of the U.S. in Panama. Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8223-3098-9, p. 118.
  31. ^ Central American Human Rights Commission, Panama Delegation, "Report of Joint CODEHUCA-CONADEHUPA delegation," January–February 1990, San Jose, Costa Rica.
  32. ^ "Panama: "Operation Just Cause" – The Human Cost of the US Invasion". PHR Library. Physicians for Human Rights. http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/library/news-1990-12-16.html. 
  33. ^ Operation Just Cause
  34. ^ [2] 7 April 1991 Human Rights in Post-Invasion Panama: Justice Delayed is Justice Denied
  35. ^ "Major William J. Conley Jr. , Operations "Just Cause" and "Promote Liberty" :The implications of Military operations other than war.". Small Wars Journal. http://smallwarsjournal.com/documents/conley.pdf. 
  36. ^ Powell, Colin with Joseph E Persico. My American Journey. New York, Random House, 1995 
  37. ^ a b c d "Lawrence Yates PhD ; Panama, 1988–1990 The Discontent between Combat and Stability Operations". Military Review May–June 2005. http://usacac.army.mil/CAC/milreview/download/English/MayJun05/yates.pdf. 
  38. ^ "Operation Nimrod Dancer". Global Security. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/nimrod_dancer.htm. 
  39. ^ International Development Research Centre, "The Responsibility to Protect", December 2001,
  40. ^ New York Times, 21 December 1989, "U.S. Denounced by Nations Touchy About Intervention", James Brooke.
  41. ^ United Nations Security Council Draft Resolution S-21048 on 22 December 1989 (retrieved 13 September 2007)
  42. ^ United Nations Security Council Verbatim Report meeting 2902 page 15 on 23 December 1989 (retrieved 13 September 2007)
  43. ^ United Nations Security Council Verbatim Report meeting 2902 page 10 on 22 December 1989 (retrieved 13 September 2007)
  44. ^ a b c Pastor, Robert A. Exiting the Whirlpool: U.S. Foreign Policy Toward Latin America and the Caribbean. 2001, page 96.
  45. ^ Trent, Barbara (Director) (31 July 1992) (Documentary film). The Panama Deception. Empowerment Project. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0105089/. 
  46. ^ Brewer, Stewart, "Borders and bridges: a history of U.S.-Latin American relations", Page 147
  47. ^ Panama's president vetoes law declaring anniversary of US invasion a 'day of mourning'
  48. ^ Panama marks '89 invasion as day of 'national mourning'
  49. ^ How Television Sold the Panama Invasion
  50. ^ Henkin, Louis. Right V. Might: International Law and the Use of Force. 1991, page 161-2.
  51. ^ "Guillermo Endara Galimany" Britannica
  52. ^ New York Times, 21 July 1990, "Panama Companies Sue U.S. for Damages".
  53. ^ Christian Science Monitor, 20 December 1991, "El Chorrillo Two years after the U.S. invaded Panama, those displaced by the war have new homes."
  54. ^ Attacks on the Press 2001: Panama – Committee to Protect Journalists
  55. ^ 50 kilos of Cocaine was tamales Washington Post 23 January,'1990 Retrieved 29 September 2008.
  56. ^ a b c "Operation Nimrod Dancer". Military. GS.Org. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/nimrod_dancer.htm. 
  57. ^ Operation Just Cause : Panama 1989
  58. ^ http://etd.lsu.edu/docs/available/etd-0613102-131926/unrestricted/AppB(US).pdf
  59. ^ a b Operation Just Cause Historical Summary: Operation Just Cause Lessons Learned Volume I


  • New York Times, 21 December 1989, "For a Panamanian, Hope and Tragedy", Roberto Eisenmann.

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