On 24 Dec (D+4) the 1st Bde 7th Inf Div (L) closed in Panama and was attached to the 82d Abn Div for operations in Panama City. For the next three weeks, the soldiers of 1st Bde battled snipers, members of Dignity Battalions (DIGBATs), PDF soldiers and intense heat and humidity while clearing the city and restoring law and order. Intelligence indicated that a large number of DIGBATs armed with automatic weapons and grenades had gone into hiding, possibly in Panama City. To counter this threat, the 1st Bde searched and cleared designated areas in a city of 600,000 people. Platoons worked within designated sectors, often securing a three-block area and searching specific buildings each day. Soldiers quickly gained the trust and confidence of the Panamanian people with their caring and professional approach to this demanding task.
Securing and/or clearing a built-up area is very manpower-intensive. A city block in Panama City often included 50 buildings, many of them multiple storied, to include high rises. Most buildings were constructed of concrete reinforced with rebar. Because of the presence of civilians, soldiers could not always use standard building-clearing techniques. ROE prohibited the use of fragmentation grenades and the technique of clearing a room by fire unless a positively identified enemy showed hostile intent. Units employed damage-limiting techniques to prevent civilian casualties and gain the support of the local population. Commanders were given the mission to either clear or secure a building, and it is critical to understand the intent and difference between the two missions. Clearing a building required a systematic search of every room, while securing a building relied upon the search of selected areas and questioning of the occupants. Both clearing and securing placed soldiers under a great deal of physical and mental stress.
- Cordon off buildings before attempting to clear or secure. Block all entrys and exits.
- Use PSYOP loudspeaker teams to encourage enemy personnel to surrender before entering a building.
- Position EOD-trained soldiers to assist in disarming enemy demolitions/booby traps.
- Clear building from the top down. It remains the approved solution; however, obstacles on rooftops may require rappelling, fast roping, or may preclude top-down operations.
- Leapfrog platoons by floor, clearing a high-rise building, to keep one platoon rested and available as a reserve for reaction missions.
- Secure (as opposed to clear) a multi-story building by searching the bottom floor and sending an element up the stairwell to clear the top floor and eliminate any snipers. If questioning of occupants does not reveal further enemy presence, move to the next building. Secure building access and control the roof tops.
- Anticipate that clearing multi-story buildings is manpower-intensive and time-consuming. It took a rifle company the majority of a day to clear a hospital.
- Fire 90-mm RR with anti-personnel (APERS) round at buildings to cover the breaching team.
- Limit use of tracer rounds to avoid fires and collateral damage.
- Employ concussion grenades instead of fragmentation grenades for room clearing.
- Emphasize restraint in use of force during building/room clearing when conducting STXs for MOUT.
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