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.
On 14 Mar 88, in-country U.S. forces were augmented by Military Police (MP) units and an aviation task force. In Jun 88, the Commander in Chief, United States Southern Command (USCINCSO), 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.
After the May 89 elections, tensions increased when election results were voided and opposition leaders were physically beaten by Noriega's Dignity Battalions (DIGBATs). Concurrent with ongoing contingency planning, Operation NIMROD DANCER was executed as an initiative to exercise U.S. freedom of movement rights. This operation called for 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. At the same time, military dependents began returning to the U.S. as part of Operation BLADE JEWEL.
In Sep 89, JTFSO revised PLAN BLUE SPOON. It was changed from BLUE SPOON to PLAN 90-2. The October coup attempt caused PLAN 90-2 to be updated as the PDF displayed the capability to quickly reinforce units in Panama City. The revised PLAN reflected the requirement to neutralize 27 PDF objectives simultaneously.
On 15 Dec 89, 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 Dec, 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:
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. They were followed later by the 2d and 1st Bdes, 7th Inf Div (L), while the in-place forces comprised of the 3d Bde (-), 7th Inf Div (L); 193d Infantry Brigade (L) and 4-6 Inf, 5th Inf Div (M), assaulted objectives in both Panama City and on the Atlantic side of the Canal. By the first day, all D-Day objectives were secured. 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.
Following are summaries of many of the U.S. Army units involved in D-Day operations which provide the background for lessons learned from Operation JUST CAUSE.
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