The United States Invasion of Panama, codenamed 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 back to Panama by the year 2000.
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 Omar Torrijos of Panama on September 7, 1977. U.S. relations with General Noriega spanned during 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 may have been working for the US since the 1970s, when Bush was head (1976–77) of the CIA.
Noriega had sided in favor of 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 self proclaimed revolutionaries of the FMLN group paid by the USSR in El Salvador. Noriega receiving only upwards of $100,000 per year for his loyalty and efforts against the much better funded Soviet backed proto-autocrats. 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.
During the 1980s, U.S. President Ronald Reagan negotiated with General Noriega, requesting that the Panamanian leader peacefully step down, while pressuring him with several drug-related indictments in U.S. courts. In 1988, Elliot Abrams began pushing for U.S. invasion. Reagan refused. Later negotiations involved dropping the drug-trafficking indictments. In March 1989, 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. 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. Bush called on Noriega to honor the will of the Panamanian people.
In October 1989, Noriega foiled a second coup attempt led by major Moisés Giroldi. Pressure mounted on Bush, as the media labeled him a "wimp" for failing to aid Panama amidst his rhetoric. 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 indictment. 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.
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. In a December 16 incident, four U.S. military personnel, were politely greeted at a roadblock outside PDF headquarters in the El Chorrillo neighborhood of Panama City, none of the US personnel was injured or killed. 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.
U.S. Marine, 2nd Lt. Robert Paz, returned from a restaurant in Panama City. Paz was recovering from recent knee reconstruction surgery, and on leave from his duty station of Camp Pendleton California; he was stopped and harassed to the point where he panicked; as he attempted to flee, he was shot and killed. It was also reported by the Los Angeles Times that "according to American military and civilian sources" the officer killed was a member of the "Hard Chargers", a group whose goal was to agitate members of the PDF. It was also reported 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. The US Marines denied that such a group ever existed. 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".
The official United States justification for the invasion was articulated by President George H. W. Bush on the morning of December 20, 1989, a few hours after the start of the operation. President Bush listed four reasons for the invasion:
In regard to one of the reasons set forth by the United States to justify the invasion, namely the Panamanian legislature's declaration of a state of war between the United States and Panama, Noriega insists 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) 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. Panama, before the contended 'declaration of war' against the US, had instigated no hostile actions against any other country.
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 December 20, 1989, at 0100 local time. The operation involved 27,684 U.S. troops and over 300 aircraft—including the AC-130 Spectre gunship, OA-37B Dragonfly observation and attack aircraft, and the 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. These aircraft were deployed against the 46,000 members of the Panamanian Defense Force (PDF).
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 AH-6 Little Bird to crash-land in the Panama Canal.
Fort Amador was secured by elements of the 508th Airborne Infantry and 59th Engineer Company (sappers) in a nighttime air assault which secured the fort in the early hours of December 20. 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. 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.
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. 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. Noriega finally surrendered to the U.S. military on January 3, 1990. He was immediately put on an MC-130 Combat Talon aircraft and extradited to the United States.
While some US Marine units continued their deployment, others that had been deployed since October 3, 1989, began returning on January 12, 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 December 20, 1989. Another was Kilo Co. 3BN 6MAR, deployed initially on October 1, 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.
The US lost 23 troops, 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.
Physicians for Human Rights in a report issued one year after the invasion, estimated that "at least 300 Panamanian civilians died due to the invasion"; another by former Attorney-General Ramsey Clark claimed over 4,000 deaths.. 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.
According to official Pentagon figures 516 Panamanians were killed during the invasion; an internal Army memo estimated the number at 1,000.
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."
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..General Collin Powell said that he liked the name Operation Just Cause because "even our severest critics would have to utter "Just Cause" while denouncing us." .
The post-invasion CMO (Civil-Military Operation) designed to stabilize the situation, support the government the Unites 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..
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 on 1989 was called Operation Nimrod Dancer.
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.
On December 22, 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. 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 was vetoed on 23 December by three of the permanent members of the Security Council, France, United Kingdom, and the United States who cited its right of self-defense of 35,000 Americans present on the Panama Canal.
Peru recalled its ambassador from the United States to protest the invasion.
Some claim that the Panamanian people overwhelmingly supported the invasion. 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. 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.
74% of Americans polled approved the action.
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.
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. 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. This looting inflicted catastrophic losses on many Panamanian businesses, some of which took several years to recover.
On July 19, 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.
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.
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. On February 10, 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.
Information in this section
Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep 89
D-Day 20 Dec 89
D-Day + 14, 3 Jan 90
D-Day + 23, 12 Jan 90
D-Day + 4.5 years approx, September 1994
All 27 objectives related to the Panamanian Defense Force were completed on D-Day: December 20, 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 19th Dec 89-
D-Day 20 Dec 89 -
D-Day + 1, 21 Dec 89 -
D-Day + 2, 22 Dec 89 -
D-Day + 3, 23 Dec 89 -
D-Day + 4, 24 Dec 89 -
D-Day + 5, 25 Dec 89 -
D-Day + 14, 3 Jan 90 - Noriega surrenders to U.S. forces.
D-Day + 23, 12 Jan 90 - Operation JUST CAUSE ends.
D-Day + 4.5 years approx, September 94 - Operation PROMOTE LIBERTY ends..
Headquarters and Headquarter Co. 319th MI BN
Headquarters and Headquarters Service Co. 519th MI BN