Operation Just Cause

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Operation Just Cause

The Pentagon's decision to call the 1989 invasion of Panama "Operation Just Cause" initiated a trend of selecting operation names with themes that would help generate public support for the conflicts.

Invasion of Panama was called Operation Just Cause. Officially started on D-Day was 20 December 1989 and ended 31 January 1990. You will hear people say the war ended on 3 January 1990. Which is the day Noriega surrendered at the Vatican Embassy.

The Pentagon's decision to call the 1989 invasion of Panama "Operation Just Cause" initiated a trend of selecting operation names with themes that would help generate public support for the conflicts.1

Commanders President George W. Bush

Manuel Noriegaaka: Pineapple FaceGen. Maxwell R. ThurmanThe goals of the United States have been to safeguard the lives of Americans, to defend democracy in Panama, to combat drug trafficking, and to protect the integrity of the Panama Canal treaty, adding that he has directed the Armed Forces to bring General Noriega to justice in the United States. GWB

Panama-Manuel Noriega known as Pineapple Face

U.S.: President George W. Bush & General R. Thurman2

Panamanian Defense Forces

Equipped w/ V-300 Armored Cars .50 Cal Machine gunPatrol Crafts, Cutters & LaunchesUnarmed helicoptersTransport & Training planesCommunist made:AK-47, AK-74, RPG-5, RPG-7., M162 Infantry Battalions5 light Infantry Battalions 1 Calvary Troop2 Public Order CompaniesAir Force of 500 troopsNavy 400 troops

PDF- 2 Infantry Battalions, 5 light Infantry Battalions, 1 Calvary Troop, 2 Public Order Companies, 500 troops in the Air Force, 400 Troops in the Navy.15,000 total Combat ready troops

Weapons: Anything they could get their hands on- Communist made. 28 V-300 Armored Cars, .50 Cal Machine gun, Unarmed Helios, Training Planes,

Pictures: Front of PDF headquarters in Rio Hato. Pile of weapons: Collected from Civilians and Ex-PDF. Paid for by the U.S. Military for $25-$50each per handgun or Rifle. 3


The attack on the Comandancia (the PDF's headquarters in Panama City) and the rescue of an American citizen from the adjoining prison (the Carcel Modelo) were the responsibility of a joint task force that included Special Forces ground elements

Omar Torrijos International Airport was the main international airport serving Panama, and the adjoining Tocumen military airfield was the home base of the Panamanian Air Force. Capturing Torrijos/Tocumen was crucial to the JUST CAUSE campaign plan because it would enable the 82nd Airborne Division to come into the country, while preventing the 2nd Panamanian Defense Force (PDF) Company and the Panamanian Air Force from interfering with American operations. The Torrijos/Tocumen complex formed a target area approximately six kilometers long and two kilometers wide.

By the fall of 1989, the Noriega regime was barely clinging to power. Tensions increased when election results were voided and opposition leaders were physically beaten by Noriega's Dignity Battalions (DIGBATs). An unsuccessful PDF coup attempt in October produced bloody reprisals. Deserted by all but a small number of cronies, and distrustful of a shaken and demoralized PDF, Noriega began increasingly to rely on irregular paramilitary units called Dignity Battalions. In December 1989, the regime's paranoia made daily existence unsafe for U.S. forces and other U.S. citizens.On 15 December 1989, the National Assembly of Panama declared that a state of war existed with the U.S. and adopted measures to confront foreign aggression. In the days that followed, service members and dependents were harassed, and a Marine lieutenant was killed.On 17 December 1989 the national command authority (NCA) directed the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) to execute PLAN 90-2. JTFSO received the JCS execute order on 18 Dec with a D-Day and H-Hour of 20 Dec 0100 local. 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.Restructure the PDF.At Forts Bragg, Benning, and Stewart, D-Day forces were alerted, marshaled, and launched on a fleet of 148 aircraft. Units from the 75th Ranger Regiment and 82d Airborne Division conducted airborne assaults to strike key objectives at Rio Hato, and Torrijos/Tocumen airports.


The Rio Hato military base ranged along the coastline of the Gulf of Panama, with the airfield runway nearly perpendicular to the shoreline. The barracks for the 6th and 7th Companies were on the runway's southwest side. There were a number of beach houses along a dirt lane to the south of the runway; Manuel Noriega owned (and occasionally used) one of them. To the west of the runway, and above the 6th and 7th Companies' barracks, was the PDF school complex. The Pan American highway bisected the airfield.5

Rio Hato

The Panamanian military base near the small village of Rio Hato was located 65 miles west of Panama City. It contained a large airfield and was home to two PDF companies: the 6th Rifle Company (Mechanized), equipped with 19 armored cars, and the 7th Rifle Company, an elite counterinsurgency force known to be loyal to Noriega. In addition, the base housed a PDF engineer platoon and PDF training schools. TF RED'S mission was to destroy PDF forces and seize the airfield for follow on missions. The total number of PDF forces was estimated to exceed 500 men; these units, particularly the 7th Rifle Company, were expected to offer stiff opposition to the TF RED forces.6

Canal Zone-December 1989

M998 stuck in the River

2 Soldiers coming out of the jungle looking for PDF. 7

3rd PLT C Co 3/73 armor 82nd Airborne

Special Boat Unit 26 (SBU) & SEALS on the Canal

A Co 1/288th Blackhawk UH-60 7th Infantry Division Aviation


AC-130M-113F-117ADragonfliesApaches, Cobras, BlackhawksSEALS: fired rockets, 81mm, 60mm, 25mm, MK-19, Twin 50's, M-60E3's, M-4's MP5's, Sig 226, Beretta 9mm, Mossberg 870, Claymores, Flash Bangs7th Inf Division used M16A2, M60s, M249 (SAW), Beretta 9mm, M203, AT-4, Laws. ADA units had the ground/towed version of the Vulcan, AH-1 cobra, 105mm towed artillery.The 193d was using M16a2, M203, Saws, M60, 90mm recoilless rifles, Beretta 92 pistols.The 5th ID guys had M16a1, M1911a1 pistols, M203, and M2HBsU.S. WEAPONS

Each US unit varied depending on the their level of weapon upgrade they were at.

Task Force Hawk crew chief Specialist Robert Johnson uses an M60D machine gun to clear a landing zone.

Task Force Hawk helicopters insert troops during a Combined Arms Live Fire Exercise in Panama.

The F-117A was first used in combat during operation Just Cause on December 19, 1989 when two F-117As from the 37th TFW attacked military targets in Panama.


The AC-130 gunships had the primary role during Operation Just Cause in Panama of destroying the Panamanian Defense Force Headquarters and numerous command and control facilities by surgical employment of ordnance in an urban environment. As the only close air support platform in the theater, Spectres were credited with saving the lives of many friendly personnel. Both the H-models and A-models played key roles. The fighting was opened by a gunship attack on the military headquarters of the dictator of Panama and the outcome was never in doubt. All objectives were quickly accomplished and democracy was restored to Panama.10

U.S. ForcesNavyNaval Surface Warfare Unit 8Special Boat Unit 26Task Force WHITENaval Security Group (Galeta Island)NAVSCIATTSMine Division 127Air Force830th Air Division1st Special Operations Wing (AC-130)24th Composite Air Wing61st Military Airlift Group (COMALF)430th Reconnaissance Technical Group (FURTIVE BEAR)4400th Air Postal SquadronMarines6th Marine Expeditionary BattalionMarine Security Element (Galeta Island) [USMC]1st Platoon, Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team [USMC]534th Military Police Company [Panama]536th Engineer Battalion [Panama]Battery D, 320th Field Artillery [Panama]2d Battalion, 27th Infantry (-) [D+] [Ft. Ord, CA]

ARMYTASK FORCE BAYONET (193d Infantry Brigade) [Panama]HHC, 193d Infantry Brigade5th Battalion, 87th Infantry1st Battalion, 508th Infantry4th Battalion, 6th Infantry [Ft. Polk, LA]Platoon, Company , 3d Battalion, 73d Armor [Ft. Bragg, NC]Platoon, Company D, 2d Light Armored Infantry Battalion [USMC]59th Engineer Company519th Military Police BattalionTASK FORCE ATLANTIC (3d Brigade, 7th Infantry Division)HHC, 3d Brigade, 7th Infantry Division [Ft. Ord, CA]4th Battalion, 17th Infantry [Ft. Ord, CA]3d Battalion, 504th Infantry [Ft. Bragg, NC]Jungle Operations Training Center [Panama]7th Military Police CompanyBattery B, 7th Battalion, 15th Field ArtilleryBattery B, 2d Battalion, 62d Air Defense ArtilleryCompany C, 13th Engineer BattalionCompany C, 7th Medical BattalionCompany C, 707th Maintenance BattalionCompany C, 7th Supply and Transportation Battalion3d Platoon, Company B, 127th Signal BattalionTASK FORCE AVIATION (Aviation Brigade, 7th Infantry Division)1st Battalion, 228th Aviation [Panama]Task Force HAWK (3d Battalion, 123d Aviation) [Ft. Ord, CA]Task Force WOLF (1st Battalion, 82d Aviation) [Ft. Bragg, NC]82D AIRBORNE DIVISION (-) [Ft. Bragg, NC]HHC, 82d Airborne Division (-)1st Brigade, 82d Airborne Division (+)Company B, 82d Signal Battalion (-)82d Military Police Company (-)401st Military Police Company [Ft. Hood, TX]511th Military Police Company [Ft. Drum, NY]1st Brigade, 7th Infantry Division [D+] [Ft. Ord, CA]