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The Panama Canal Treaty of 1980 guaranteed the U.S. forces freedom of movement in the country to do whatever was necessary to defend the Canal. There were also provisions to exercise and practice the necessary defensive contingency plans. The U.S. exercised these rights by moving units of the 193d Inf Bde (L) with attached Nimrod Dancer/Sustain elements throughout the Old Canal Zone and adjacent areas. The soldiers of 1-504th PIR, 5- 87th Inf, and 4-6th Inf (M) became expertly familiar with the routes to many key facilities and the plans to secure and protect them in the months leading up to JUST CAUSE. This in-depth knowledge of the roads, PDF security positions and, in many cases, the PDF responses to U.S. movement, was critical to the timing of the initial assaults during darkness on the key targets in Panama City and the Old Canal Zone.


An existing plan was modified and used for JUST CAUSE. It was reviewed in detail prior to the operation and backbriefed and rehearsed at every level which made both leaders and soldiers confident and competent during every phase of the operation. Freedom-of-movement exercises, which closely mirrored portions of the actual plan, served as rehearsals for the D-Day plan. Due to operational security (OPSEC), soldiers were not told the true intent of these rehearsals until hours before the actual operation. Personal reconnaissance of the objectives was conducted by subordinate leaders. This reconnaissance assisted commanders in developing their intent, which was critical since the majority of operations were decentralized and executed at platoon and squad level. Redundancy in equipment and personnel was built into the plan and was evidenced in all units participating in the operations. This redundancy gave units the flexibility to handle the unexpected.



  • OPSEC is a critical factor in contingency operations. Ensure leaders have proper clearances to review plans. Little time exists to request clearances and background investigations.

  • Incorporate redundancy of systems, capabilities and plans in every aspect of a contingency operation. Overlapping forces or time sequencing provided backup without requiring more forces to be committed to the overall operation.

  • Leaders/soldiers must conduct detailed reconnaissance wherever possible. Crews saw their positions, ingress and egress routes, limits of fire and obstacles that allowed detailed planning and accurate rehearsals.

  • OPSEC dictates that some rehearsals be conducted off site. Rehearsal sites must by accurate to the smallest detail. This allows refining of the plan and building soldier confidence.

  • Utilize backbriefs to check subordinate leaders' understanding of the overall plan and the commander's intent.


  • Understand the commander's intent two levels up. Units integrated complex rules of engagement (ROE) with the maneuver plan and made assessments based on a clear understanding of the commander's intent.

  • Use troop-leading procedures effectively. Planning and rehearsals are often much more important than trying to create a perfect plan at the higher headquarters.

  • Leadership training and reinforcement of initiative paid excellent dividends. When communications failed, and/or the plan required modification, the junior leaders made decisions and made it work.

Table of Contents, Volume II
Special Operations Forces (SOF) - Conventional Force Integration
Rules of Engagement (ROE) and Collateral Damage

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