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  OPERATION JUST CAUSE -- KEY EVENTS - Summary                                     [p1 of 2]  

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AMERICA'S LEGACY IN PANAMA

PANAMA CANAL TREATY TRANSITION

END OF AN ERA

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BASES-LIST/MAP

U.S. MILITARY PRESENCE IN PANAMA (1903-1999)

HISTORY

SENIOR MILITARY COMMANDS AND COMMANDERS 

MAJOR SUBORDINATE COMMANDS 

FORCES / UNITS

CHANGING MISSIONS AND STRATEGIES

MAJOR EVENTS

-- Panama Canal Treaty Implementation (1979-1999)

Operation Just Cause (Dec 20, 1989 - Jan 12, 1990)

-- Operation Promote Liberty (Jan 12, 1990 - mid-1994)

-- Operation Safe Haven (Sept 1994-Feb 1995)

EXERCISES / OPERATIONS

-- Engineering Exercises (Fuertes Caminos;  New Horizons)

-- Other Exercises

MAJOR INSTITUTIONS

-- U.S. Army School of the Americas

-- Inter-American Air Forces Academy

-- Naval Small Craft Instruction and Technical Training School (NAVSCIATTS)

-- Army Jungle Operations Training Center

-- Army Tropic Test Center

-- Inter-American Geodetic Survey

MILITARY STEWARDSHIP OF ENVIRONMENT

VIGNETTES

  

KEY EVENTS -- SUMMARY

PRELUDE:  POLITICAL CRISIS IN PANAMA

Several key events over an extended period led to the decision to deploy U.S. troops to Panama.  Planning for the Panama contingency began in Feb 88 because of growing tension between the U.S. government and the Noriega regime.  Planning included a series of orders that addressed the defense of the Old Canal Zone, noncombatant evacuation, neutralization of the Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF), and Civil Military Operations (CMO).  The operation plan (PLAN) for offensive operations became PLAN BLUE SPOON (later renamed OPERATION JUST CAUSE).

DATE

U.S. FORCES IN PANAMA

WASHINGTON (DOD, DOS, White House, and/or  Congress)

PANAMA NORIEGA REGIME (Panama Defense Forces (PDF) / Legislature / Others)

PANAMA- OPPOSITION (CIVILISTAS)

1987/ Jun 8 General Fred F. Woerner assumed command of the U.S. Southern Command from General John Galvin appointed SACEUR/NATO and CINC European Command. (General Manuel Noriega was among those attending the change of command ceremony.)      
1987/ Jun 9     La Prensa front page article on allegations by recently retired PDF Colonel Roberto Diaz (to selected reporters the previous day) of PDF involvement in the killing of Hugo Spadafora, illicit sale of visas to Chinese, and other allegations, admitting his involvement in some of them. Those allegations sparked spontaneous demonstrations particularly on Via Espana Near the El Panama Hotel, urged on by Mayin Correa on Radio kw Continente.
1987/ Jun 10     Panamanian Government declares state of emergency, suspends Constitutional guarantees for 10 days  
1987/ Jun 30     U.S. Embassy was target of violent anti-American demonstrations orchestrated by well-known political elements, with at least one cabinet member/minister caught on videotape.  

1987/ Sept

 

U.S. Senate passed a resolution urging Panama to reestablish a civilian government.

Panama reacted by protesting alleged U.S. violations of the Panama Canal Treaty

 

 
1987/ Oct 6     Panama Defense Forces (PDF) arrests nine U.S. military members (eight of them a crew of a U.S.Force aircraft on TDY) in Panama City in two different locations in the evening.  U.S. Force were not notified of the arrests as required by procedural guarantees of   the Panama Canal Treaty  (Same evening Pres. Eric Delvalle announced nationwide crackdown on any further demonstrations.)  
1987/ Oct 7 Southern Command Public Affairs Directorate released late same day statement of what happened to the servicemembers detained (after interviews with U.S. officials and those service members) along with the treaty-stipulated procedure guarantees that had been violated by the PDF. 

 

 

  The ID cards with photos of all nine service members arrested night before were on front page of newspaper with the Noriega regime alleging they were involved in seditious acts including the demonstrations.  This was the first the U.S. Forces were aware the service members had been arrested. The nine were released by the PDF later same day and U.S. Forces filed a protest of the incident.  

1987/ Nov

 

U.S. Senate resolution cut military and economic aid to Panama.

Noriega-controlled legislature adopted resolution aimed at restricting U.S. military presence.

 
1988/ Feb   Noriega indicted in Miami on drug-related charges.    
U.S. forces begin planning contingency operations in Panama (code named PLAN BLUE SPOON).
1988/ Mar First of four deployments of U.S. forces from U.S to augment U.S. forces in Panama began arriving in Panama via Howard AFB to provide additional security to U.S. installations. Deployed forces included Military Police (MP) units and an aviation task force. (14 March)

Panamanian banks closed to avoid a run on deposits during a cash shortage caused by United States freeze on Panamanian assets held in American accounts. (3 March)

Selected PDF officers attempted a coup against Noriega.  (16 March)

Noriega created para-military Dignity Battalions (DIGBATs) to augment PDF.  (14 March)

Senior PDF Air Force (FAP) pilot Major  Augusto Villalaz stated, immediately after having defected to the U.S., that Noriega had stockpiled some 16 tons of weapons from Cuba.  Statement was made when he appeared on ABC's This Week with David Brinkley (as reported by UPI), 

 
1988/ April Additional U.S. forces deployed to Panama to provide security of U.S. installations. (5 April).

Joint Task Force Panama activated. (9 April)

   
1988/ Sept U.S. begins decreasing the number of military dependents and civilian diplomats in Panama. Incidents against U.S. personnel increase in intensity and frequency.  
1989/ May U.S. election observers (headed by former President Carter and included members of Congress (House and Senate), former ambassadors to Panama, and other officials) arrived in Panama via Howard AFB to observe 2 May elections.

Late night of 2 May Carter announced on television and radio that U.S. observers had detected voting irregularities.

President George H.W. Bush ordered 1,900 additional combat troops to Panama to augment security of U.S. installations and personnel (Operation NIMROD DANCER) (11 May).

U.S. military convoys were conducted outside U.S. military installations and outside the Panama Canal Area to assert U.S. freedom of movement granted in Panama Canal Treaty documents (22 May).  That was the beginning of routine convoys and exercises outside the Panama Canal Area.

U.S. Dependents redeployment from Panama accelerated (Operation BLADE JEWEL) (22 May).
Presidential and Legislature  elections held May 2; results were invalidated two days later by Noriega.

 

 

DIGBATs assault opposition candidates and crowds during victory parades (7 May).

Victory parades conducted 7 May by opposition incensed by Noriega having invalidated the elections.
1989/ Jun, Jul,  Aug Contingency planning for military operations intensified. (See Note 1 and Note 2 below.)    
U.S. began conducting joint training/freedom of movement exercises (SAND FLEAS and PURPLE STORMS).  
     
1989/ Sept Joint Task Force South (JTFSO) revised PLAN BLUE SPOON as PLAN 90-2.  (See Note 3 below.)

General Maxwell R. Thurman assumed command of U.S. Southern from General Frederick F. Woerner in change of command ceremony (30 Sept).

     
1989/ Oct     Noriega defeated second coup attempt (3 Oct). PDF demonstrated ability to quickly move units from Rio Hato and Ft. Cimmarron to Panama City.  
1989/ Dec 15     Noriega proclaimed himself supreme leader of Panama (15 Dec).

National Assembly declared Panama to be in a state of war with the U.S. (15 Dec).

 
1989/ Dec 16     Marine Lieutenant Robert Paz shot and killed by PDF soldiers at improvised checkpoint in El Chorrillo near the PDF Comandancia HQ (16 Dec night).  (For details GO TO)

Navy lieutenant and wife detained and assaulted by PDF in same area, same evening where Lt. Paz was shot.  They had witnessed the shooting (16 Dec).  They were released next morning.

 
1989/ Dec 17   National Command Authority (President Bush through Secretary of Defense Chaney) directed execution of Operation JUST CAUSE (17 Dec).    
1989/ Dec 18 Army lieutenant shoots PDF sergeant.  JCS designates D-Day/H-Hour as 200100R Dec 89 (18 Dec). CS designates D-Day/H-Hour as 200100R Dec 89 (18 Dec).

Joint Task Force South (JTFSO) advance party deployed from U.S. to Panama (18 Dec).

   
1989/ Dec 19 U.S. forces in the U.S. and in Panama alerted, marshaled and launched (19 Dec).    

NOTES TO ABOVE TABLE:

NOTE  1 -  In June 1988, the Commander in Chief, United States Southern Command General Frederick W. Woerner, designated XVIII Airborne Corps as the base for the Joint Task Force South (JTFSO) headquarters responsible for planning and executing joint operations in Panama.  JTFSO began revising PLAN BLUE SPOON that called for the deployment of U.S. troops to Panama.

NOTE  2 -  After the May 1989 elections, tensions increased when election results were voided and opposition leaders were physically beaten by Noriega's para-militaryDignity Battalions (DIGBATs).  Concurrent with ongoing contingency planning, Operation NIMROD DANCER was executed as an initiative to exercise U.S. freedom of movement rights under the Panama Canal Treaty of 1977.  This operation called for reinforcing the forward deployed U.S. forces with a brigade headquarters and an infantry battalion task force from the 7th Infantry Division (Light), a mechanized infantry battalion from the 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized), and a U.S. Marine Corps Light Armored Infantry (LAI) Company.  Augmentation continued with units rotating from both divisions under Operation NIMROD SUSTAIN. At the same time, military dependents began returning to the U.S. as part of Operation BLADE JEWEL.

NOTE  3 -  In Sep 89, JTFSO revised PLAN BLUE SPOON and renamed PLAN 90-2 (later renamed Operation Just Cause). The October coup attempt caused PLAN 90-2 to be updated as the PDF displayed the capability to quickly reinforce units in Panama City from units outside Panama City during the Oct 3 coup attempt. The revised PLAN reflected the requirement to neutralize 27 PDF objectives simultaneously (for list GO TO).

 

SOURCES:  Several, including Operation JUST CAUSE Historical Summary at http://web.archive.org/web/20001109102900/call.army.mil/call/ctc_bull/90-9/9091his.htm.

 

NEXT PAGE:  Key events of Operation Just Cause and aftermath.

 

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