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OPERATION JUST CAUSE 
PANAMA 1989

flag of panama


"Fellow citizens, last night I ordered U.S. military forces to Panama. . . .  Our goals have been to safeguard American lives, to defend democracy in Panama, to combat drug trafficking, and protect the integrity of the Panama Canal Treaty.  Many attempts have been made to resolve the crisis and all were rejected by the dictator of Panama, General Manuel A. Noriega, an indicted drug trafficker.

   Last Friday Noriega declared his military dictatorship to be in a state of war with the United States and publicly threatened the lives of Americans in Panama.  The very next day an unarmed American serviceman was shot and killed, another wounded, and a third, arrested and brutally beaten.  That was enough.

   As president I have no higher obligation than to safeguard the lives of American citizens in Panama and to bring General Noriega to justice in the United States. . ."

President Bush addressing the nation

 President George H. W. Bush,
December 20th, 1989

 Addressing the nation on U.S. military actions in Panama

 

    President George Bush ordered the invasion of Panama in December 1989.

   The US military forces had four objectives:

   * protect US citizens

   * support democratic initiatives in Panama

   * ensure safe operation of the Panama Canal

   * apprehend general Noriega and bring him to justice

Manuel Noriega, deposed dictator of panama

General Manuel A. Noriega, military dictator of Panama

 

       Manuel Noriega was Panama's military leader from 1983 to 1989.  He had been a paid CIA informant and was also on the United States Army's payroll from 1955 to 1986.

   But accusations of illegal activities surfaced in the early 1980s.  In 1988, he was indicted on drug- trafficking and racketeering charges in the U.S.

   Relations with the U.S. further soured when Noriega annulled Panama's presidential election in May 1989 and declared himself head of state. 

THE INVASION

   In the early morning hours of December 20, 1989, the United States military became involved in its largest combat operation since the end of the Vietnam War by invading the Republic of Panama.

patches of 1/75th Rangers, 82nd Abn, and 7th Inf

   Army Rangers and 82d Airborne paratroopers spearheaded the invasion with the biggest combat jump since World War II.  They were followed by elements of the 7th Infantry Division, pictured below.

map of Tocumen airfield

Torrijos/Tocumen Airport, Panama

   Twenty-seven targets around Panama City and the Panama Canal were chosen for simultaneous attack by US forces to weaken the Panamanian defenses. 

map of panama

   The US attacked the Panamanian Defensive Forces (PDF) that had military units in various locations, as well as the Panamanian Air Forces, Marines and police units.

   They also targeted two prisons where Americans were being held, as well as bridges, dams, locks and airfields.  The TV antenna in Panama City was destroyed in order to cease Noriega propaganda, and to broadcast American intentions to the public.

map of Canal Zone

   Once the two airports were secured, Army transportation A/DACG detachments began receiving troops and supplies, allowing the combat troops to begin securing their targets.

7th Inf Soldiers capture 2nd Panamanian Inf Co HQ

Above, 7th Infantry Division soldiers secured the 2nd Panamanian Defense Forces Infantry Company at the Torrijos/Tocumen airport.

 

Right, headquarters of the 6th Infantry Company of the PDF, secured by the 82nd Airborne.

6th ID PDF captured by 82nd Abn
7th ID attacking La COmmandancia

Left, 7th Division soldiers taking La Commandancia, a primary target and headquarters for General Noriega in Panama City.

 

A/DACG Operations

   During Operation Just Cause, the 403rd Cargo Transfer Company from Fort Bragg, was responsible for setting up two Arrival/Departure Airfield Control Groups (A/DACGs) within the theater.  One was at Omar Torrijos/Tacumen International Airport and the other at Howard Air Force Base.

   The 403rd had the distinction of being the first transportation company to execute a combat jump.  

* * * 

preparing to jump in Panama

“Moment of Truth,”
Al Sprague, oil, Panama, 1989

   An Airborne soldier of the 403rd Transportation Company, 82nd Airborne Division.

   This lieutenant stands at Green Ramp, Fort Bragg, NC ready to board a C-141 aircraft bound for Panama. The 403rd became the first Transportation Company to participate in a combat jump when they leapt into the night with the 82nd in the opening minutes of Operation Just Cause.

   Their mission was to establish airfield operations at Torrijos and Howard airbases.

   The airborne soldier wears over 75 pounds of equipment.

   The equipment includes the main and reserve parachutes, parachutist Kevlar helmet, rucksack with extra gear, and Load Bearing Equipment. 

   The airborne soldier also carries an M-16 rifle encased in a padded case made to protect weapons from the rigors of jumping.

 * * *

   The 403rd secured the runway and quickly prepared for incoming troop transports.  Fifteen soldiers from the 551st Cargo Transfer Company, Fort Eustis, assisted in A/DACG operations at Howard AFB.

   A soldier of the 1st COSCOM unloads cereal
to support
incoming troops.

 

1st COSCOM Soldier unloads cereal for incoming Soldiers

   These transportation A/DACG detachments of 8 to 9 soldiers were directly responsible for receiving personnel, supplies, and equipment.  Most of the forces had to come from the U.S.  Critical to the success was the capture of the two airfields capable of landing C-141 transports. 

1097th TRANSPORTATION COMPANY

   The 1097th Transportation Company operated LCM-8 "Mike" boats in Panama, and performed several important missions in Operation JUST CAUSE. 

1097th patrolling canal

One mission of the 1097th was to support and defend the Panama Canal.

   During all phases of Operation JUST CAUSE, the vessels of the 1097th provided a major link between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans via the Panama Canal. 

   This included insertion and extraction of soldiers and equipment, and transportation of Class 1, III and V resupply for military operations.

bypassing the Gatun locks -- 1097th LCM

   The 1097th LCMs provided bridging over the Gatun Locks where the bridge was too small to accommodate the large military trucks.

 

   The 1097th vessels transported all enemy prisoners of war and detainees from collection points on the Atlantic side to the main collection point on the Pacific side.

A 1097th LCU exits the Pedro Miguel locks. 1097th Pedro Miguel locks
LCU-1699 leaving Panama Canal into Atlantic

LCU-1699 transits the Panama Canal, heading for the Atlantic.

 

   Throughout the entire operation, the 1097th transported over 1,800 troops, over 980 tons of cargo and 848 prisoners throughout the canal.

 

The “River Raiders”

The 1097th Transportation Company was directly involved in three combat assaults -- two beach assaults at Gamboa and one vessel assault in Limon Bay.

LCM-8 Mike boat at Bocas del Toros

An LCM-8 Mike boat beached at Bocas del Toros.



1097th logo

 

 

1097th waterborne range fire

The 1097th’s waterborne range on Lake Gamboa.

 

   In addition 1097th vessels teamed with the Navy Special Boat Unit and Navy Seal operations to provide security in Limon Bay and Colon Harbor.  The performance of this joint operation between Army and Navy elements was smooth and well executed.

 

SPECIFICATIONS for 1097th VESSELS

LCU-2000

specs of LCU-2000

LCM-8

specs of LCM-8

 

dry dock repair

Emergency dry-dock for rudder repairs takes place in locks on the Pacific side.

 

 

Delivery of LCU-1668 to Panama via the USAV McHENRY

delivery of LCU-1668
delivery of LCU-1668

 

   Operation JUST CAUSE was the largest single contingency operation since World War II.  It focused on a combination of rapid deployment and precise use of deployed troops and in-country forces.

   13,000 of the 26,000 U.S. troops that served in Operation Just Cause were already stationed in Panama.  The Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF) numbered about 14,000, most of whom were willing to surrender.  Of that number, 4,000 were well-trained combat troops, and they put up stiff resistance.

Manual Noriega in custody

   Noriega surrendered to U.S. authorities in January 1990, and is now serving a 40-year sentence in Florida for drug trafficking.

suspected drug money seized at La Commandancia

Some of the several million dollars in suspected drug money seized at Noriega’s headquarters in the Commandancia.  The packing bore the address “General Manuel Antonio Noriega.”

   Fighting ended on 24 December and troop withdrawal began on the 27th.  Official hostilities ended 31 January 1990.

 

 

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