The Anniversary Of Operation Just Cause


Verified SOF
Sep 25, 2006
The Anniversary of Operation Just Cause is coming up,So for those that don't Know,and for those that don't remember,and to those of you here that were their.I thought a few post's of Memories,Facts and Opinions would be Appropriate!

The Rescue of Kurt Muse,
[ame=""]Kurt Muse: Rescue of an American Imprisoned in Panama (Part I of III)[/ame]

[ame=""]Kurt Muse: Rescue of an American Imprisoned in Panama (Part II of III)[/ame]
Found this picture...

Rangers from 2nd PLT, Cco 3/75 RGT secure La Comandancia in Panama during Operation Just Cause, December 1989.

RIP to the Men lost that day.


  • Operation_Just_Cause_Rangers_2d_plt_La_Comandancia_secure_small.jpg
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A bit of history as well.

Operation Just Cause

By the fall of 1989, the Noriega regime was barely clinging to power. Tensions increased when election results were voided and opposition leaders were physically beaten by Noriega's Dignity Battalions (DIGBATs). An unsuccessful PDF coup attempt in October produced bloody reprisals. Deserted by all but a small number of cronies, and distrustful of a shaken and demoralized PDF, Noriega began increasingly to rely on irregular paramilitary units called Dignity Battalions. In December 1989, the regime's paranoia made daily existence unsafe for U.S. forces and other U.S. citizens.

Planning for the Panama contingency began in February 1988, including 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. 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.

On 15 December 1989, 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 December 1989 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:

A. Protect U.S. lives and key sites and facilities.
B. Capture and deliver Noriega to competent authority.
C. Neutralize PDF forces.
D. Neutralize PDF command and control.
E. Support establishment of a U.S.-recognized government in Panama.
F. Restructure the PDF.
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.

On December 20, 1989, the 82d Airborne Division conducted their first combat jump since World War II onto Torrijos International Airport, Panama. The 1st Brigade task force made up of the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, parachuted into combat for the first time since World War II. In Panama, the paratroopers were joined on the ground by 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment which was already in Panama. After the night combat jump and seizure of the airport, the 82nd conducted follow-on combat air assault missions in Panama City and the surrounding areas.

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.

As the lead headquarters for SAC's tanker support, the Eighth Air Force tasked, executed, and directed 144 missions to refuel 229 receivers with over 12 million pounds of fuel. According to General Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Eighth’s "air refuelers did not just make a difference in this operation -- they made it possible." This mission introduced the F-117A Stealth Fighter to combat for the first time.

Air National Guard units participated in the operation because of their regularly scheduled presence in Panama for Operations CORONET COVE and VOLANT OAK. Only Pennsylvania's 193d Special Operations Group (SOG) was part of the integral planning process by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Air Staff for the invasion of Panama. The 105th Military Airlift Group (MAG) and the 172 MAG provided airlift support for the operation. They flew 35 missions, completed 138 sorties, moved 1,911 passengers and 1,404.7 tons of cargo which expended 434.6 flying hours. ANG VOLANT OAK C-130 aircrews flew 22 missions, completed 181 sorties, moved 3,107 passengers and 551.3 tons of cargo, which expended 140.1 flying hours. The ANG CORONET COVE units, the 114th TFG and the 18Oth TFG flew 34 missions, completed 34 sorties, expended 71.7 flying hours and expended 2,715 rounds of ordnance.

Urban terrain provides high potential for fratricide because of the likelihood of close quarters (high weapons density), recognition problems, and unfamiliar secondary effects of weapons. During Operation JUST CAUSE soldiers employed several ineffective and dangerous techniques to breach various fences, walls, and barred doors with grenades, rifle fire, and even anti-tank weapons. Direct fire support, even from just a block away, is very difficult to control. During JUST CAUSE mechanized forces providing fire support were told by brigade a light force had cleared a tall hotel building only to the second floor. In actual fact, it had cleared to the tenth floor and was fighting in a counter-sniper engagement. Seeing this fire and apparently some weapons protruding, the mechanized forces began to suppress. This drew return fire from the friendly light force for some seconds before coming under control. The extensive destruction of civilian housing seen by TV viewers around the world resulted rather from a style of fighting that is based on abundant firepower.

The high casualties and use of resources usually associated with all-out urban warfare did not occur. The United States suffered 23 KIA and 324 WIA, with estimated enemy casualties around 450. There were an estimated 200 to 300 Panamanian civilian fatalities. Some were killed by the PDF, others inadvertently by US troops. More civilians almost certainly would have been killed or wounded had it not been for the discipline of the American forces and their stringent rules of engagement (ROE). However, the United Nations (UN) put the civilian death toll at 500; the Central American Human Rights Defense Commission (CODEHUCA) and the Peace and Justice Service of Panama both claimed between 2,000 to 3000; the Panamanian National Human Rights Commission and an independent inquiry by former Attorney- General Ramsey Clark claimed over 4,000. Thousands were injured. As it turned out, the figure of Panamanian dead was large enough to stimulate debate over the need for the invasion to remove Noriega, but not large enough to generate a sense of outrage in Panama or abroad, or to turn the Panamanian people against the US intervention or the nation-building program that followed it.

The US troops involved in Operation Just Cause achieved their primary objectives quickly, and troop withdrawal began on December 27. Noreiga eventually surrendered to US authorities voluntarily. He is now serving a 40-year sentence in Florida for drug trafficking.

Operation JUST CAUSE was unique in the history of U.S. warfare for many reasons. As the largest single contingency operation since World War II, it focused on a combination of rapid deployment of critical combat power and precise utilization of forward deployed and in-country forces. Impressed by the smooth execution of JUST CAUSE, General Stiner later claimed that the operation was relatively error free, confining the Air-and Battle doctrine and validating the strategic direction of the military. He concluded, therefore, that while old lessons were confirmed, there were "no [new] lessons learned" during the campaign. Despite Stiner's assertions, Operation JUST CAUSE offers important insights into the role of force in the post Cold War period and the successful conduct of a peacetime contingency operation.
Gypsy,Great stuff thanks.
I think that pic in post #2 is labeled wrong,I think that is 7th ID.1) all that Burlap on the K-pots was a 7th thing not a Ranger thing. 2) If we ever signed out our pro mask's (I think 2 times in 2 years) it would of been in the Ruck not worn.A great Pic none the less.Keep em coming!
A nice Tribute starting with a Roll Call of those that gave the Ultimate Sacrifice!

[ame=""]YouTube - Operation Just Cause[/ame]
We wore rag tops during JC and I do believe we had our masks in case of CS.

the Rag tops made ID easy for fellow Rangers on the OBJ, if you didn't have one doom on you.
Rest in peace SEALs. Lt. John Connors, CPO Donald McFaul, Torpedoman's Mate 2nd Class Issac Rodriguez, and Botswain's Mate 1st Class Chris Tilghman.

I don't know who accurate this is, but it's in line with the story I heard from a SEAL was was wounded that night. I don't understand why the mission wasn't to blow the airplane (preferable from a distance) into dust instead of 'disabling' it. It would have saved lives and limbs. :(
The SEAL assault on Patilla Airfield during Operation Just Cause

In 1989 the United States invaded Panama. During the invasion, the US Navy SEALs were tasked with two missions. The first, to disable a boat General Noriega might use to escape, was successful (It was "disabled" by putting so much explosives under the hull that one engine was never found!). The second was not, to the tune of four SEALs killed and eight seriously wounded. It is this second incident we will focus on.
The failure of this mission started during the planning process. The original plan called for Army units to be air lifted into key areas. But the Navy command was unhappy that none of their units got to share in the action, so SEAL Team 4 was given two missions one of which probably should have been assigned to the Army Rangers. The second mission SEALS were tasked with was disabling Manuel Noriega's Learjet at Patilla Field to prevent him from escaping in it.

Originally, the plan called for 48 SEALs in two platoons to be towed near the cliffs at the end of the runway. The SEALs would then move the 3,500 ft. length of the airfield up to the hangar the lear was kept. One squad would disable the lear while another would pull small airplanes onto the airstrip to prevent it from being used. The others would be used to provide security at the north and south end of the fields.

The planner of the mission, Commodore John Sandoz, had asked an experienced SEAL under his command, a Lieutenant Commander Mike Walsh, to review his plan. Walsh had recently returned from a three half year tour in Panama and knew both the country and its current situation well. Walsh almost immediately rejected the original and offered three different plans of his own.

The first was to drive a team of eight SEALs to the fence of the airfield in a vehicle disguised to look like one of the many canal zone vehicles in the area. Previous reconnaissance would have located a hole in the fence the SEALs could use to gain access to the field. Four SEALS would remain behind as vehicle and fence guards while the remaining four would move to the hangar, take care of any guards in the hangar with sienced MP5s, and then disable the plane.

The second plan was to infiltrate a SEAL sniper team into the airfield and have them take position on top of the airfield's cafeteria. This position would give them a commanding view of the main doors to the hangar as well as the rest of the airfield. Only if the plane was about to move out would the SEALs open fire, disabling it with rounds into the cockpit ot tires.

The third and best plan involved the same two-man SEAL sniper team, but would base them from an apartment rented next to the airfield. This plan would involve the least amount of danger to the SEAL operators and was more in-line with how SEALs normally operate.

All three plans were shot by Commodore Sandoz. The original plan would be implimented. Lt. Cdr Walsh refused to sign an endorsement for Sandoz's plan and was moved from operations to logistics for his refusal.

H hour for the invasion was set for 0100. The PBR from SBU-26, with CRRCs in tow, left the dock at Rodman 2000 hours on Decemer 19, 1989. The SEALs were armed with an impressive array of weapons. Not only were pistols and M-16/203 combos carried, but several team members had the then-new M-249 Saw or M-60 machine gun. Rounding out their arsenal were fragmentation grenades, claymore mines, and AT-4 anti-tank rockets.

At 0045, the mission commander was notified that H hour had been moved forward 15 minutes (fighting had broken out early between Panamanian and American forces). The element of surprise lost, the SEALs continued towards their objective. A second problem was that the USAF Combat Controllers attached to the SEALs had not been able to raise the AC-130 Spectre assigned to provide supporting fire if needed.

Other problems began to crop up as the reached the shore and assembled on the edge of the runway. There was no cover. The runway was well lit by landing lights and backscatter from the city. Worse yet, the administration building and hangar itself were well lit. And fire from the nearby city began waking up houseguards in buildings surrounding the field. On the positive side, a SEAL surveillance team had occupied a rented apartment across from the field earlier in the day and could give them realtime intelligence about troop and vehicle movements.

So far, things had gone well. Bravo Platoon had disarmed several guards and had began to drag light aircraft onto the runway. As they did, the two squads of Golf Platoon made their way up the field. Radio calls came in; one reporting that a helicopter had left Colon heading for Patilla--possibly carrying Noriega. The second relayed that several PDF armed cars mounting 90mm cannon were possibly heading to the north end of the field.

About this time, the houseguards in the buildings surrounding the airfield noticed members of Golf Platoon's unprotected dash up the field. Using portable radios, they notified guards in the hangar and then took aim on the SEALs below. The hangar guards, now awake, quickly dressed and took up defensive positions in the hangar.

The two squads took up position, the first within 100 feet of the hangar, the second slightly behind and to the side of the first. A call came out from the hangar for the SEALS to surrender. A SEAL responded by demanding the Panimanians surrender to the SEALs. Realizing they were in a bad position on a brightly lit field, the first squad tried to relocate. Then several long bursts of fire came out from the hangar.

In the initial volley of fire, all but one of the SEALs were wounded. The houseguards across the airfileld also began to fire upon the SEALs, putting them in a deadly cross-fire. Some of the SEALs were now dead, and those that weren't were having a hard time dealing with their wounds and getting out of the heavy rucks they'd brought with them.

The second squad of Golf platoon began to attemp to lay down a protective cover as Bravo Platoon and members of the command and control element rushed to the hangar. The USAF Combat Controllers had just made contact with the gunship, but they had been kept with the command and control element of the SEALs and were too far away to provide assistance.

Surviving members began to drag the casualties away, several becoming casualties themselves in the process. Lt Phillips from Golf's second squad ordered the Learjet to be taken out by rocket. The AT-4 hit the aircraft cleanly, destroying any chance of it being used to escape. A medevac was reported as inbound, but wasn't actually released from Howard AFB (only ten minutes away for another hour and a half.

Killed were Lt. John Connors, CPO Donald McFaul, Torpedoman's Mate 2nd Class Issac Rodriguez, and Botswain's Mate 1st Class Chris Tilghman. Rodriguez had only been a SEAL for one week. Eight other SEALS had been seriously wounded.

Clearly, the tradgedy at Patilla was the fault of poor planning. But there were many factors that played into the events that took place, and many questions that should be asked. Why weren't the Rangers given this mission? Why did the Naval command decide to use such a large operating force? Why was the advice of an experienced operator and decorated SEAL ignored? Could the gunship had provided enough cover and broken Panimanian resistance had it been in contact with the team?

The operations during Just Cause should have been tasked to the units that specialized in that type of operation. The SEALS were a logical choice in the assault on Noriega's boat, but the Army Rangers should have been given the Patilla mission. Given that the SEALs got the mission, the senior staff should have come up with a better plan that was less risky, and the SEALs leading the team should have refused the mission as it was planned and developed a new plan using methods more in-line with SEAL doctrine. A smaller force should have been used. A sniper team could have taken out the lear and prevented any other aircraft from using the field. The SEALs should not have tried a conventional assault on an open, coverless airfield.
Our orders were to make the least amount of damage as possible so the new Panamanian Gov't could take over quickly, this is why the F-117' dropped bombs in an open field to scare off the defenders instead of dropping the bombs on the barracks, when they didn't run off, AC-130 leveled the place. Our OBJ wasn't prepped for the same reason, they wanted the airport intact.
There is a lot of monday morning quarterbacking in that article, understandable I guess but not terribley helpful.
Im going to throw something out there based on nothing but my immediate thoughts related only to the article ex posted and should be taking as such.

The Navy wanted some glory for their 'team' in this action, every service is guility of it, its been going on for millenia, this plan put the max number of troops in a gung ho job, lots of medals and back slapping if it had been pulled off, the commadore secures not only a promotion but a glorious page in naval history, sad but like I say it happens ALL the time.

RIP to all those that were lost, congrats to all those that came back, thank you.
Most definitely, happens in all branches. Just look at the 3d Ranger Battalion Commander jumping into OBJ Rhino when it wasnt even a batallion size jump.......:rolleyes: Glad I wasnt on that jump, as shit like that has always pissed me off.
Someone wanted a mustard stain...

There was a firefight the Brit SAS got into in A'stan where the RSM (CSM equivelent) was wounded leading some reinforcements into the battle, his place was far to the rear looking after ammo and PWs, he just got gung ho and wanted a last hurrah I guess, totally out of line.

I can understand on one hand, but we cant just make up and break rules for ourselevs to suit our own visions of how we want things to go...
SSG Larry R. Barnard RIP

RIP to all of the others that gave all down there..........

Thanks for the reminder. I always seem to black it out this time of year.
I don't think glory was the main objective for anyone. SEALs are the best at what they do, just as the Rangers are the best at what they do. Each have their own strengths. There was action and everyone wanted in, which I think is understandable. But the Army was in charge of the planning. Maybe they weren't used to working together and that's why there was friction. I'm guessing that the Joint Special Operations Command was activated in 1990 so that these problems could be avoided in the future.

My :2c:
Sure but what SOF unit is specifically trained for airfield seizures....

Its isn't SEALs.

Just like we don't swim out to blow up ships in the water.
Sure but what SOF unit is specifically trained for airfield seizures ? :cool:

I thought you Rangers could do anything? ;)

It seems to me that the aircraft could have been eliminated remotely without destroying the whole airfield/airport.

edit: exactly, the SEALs were give a job that didn't play to their strengths. But that doesn't mean that they couldn't have accomplished it without casualties if they had been allowed to do the planning.
I thought you Rangers could do anything? ;)

It seems to me that the aircraft could have been eliminated remotely without destroying the whole airfield/airport.

All I'm saying is that is one of the main things we do, take down airfields.

I think pardus was spot on with his assessment. Everyone wants a piece of the pie, it happens in every conflict and always will.
All I'm saying is that is one of the main things we do, take down airfields.

I think pardus was spot on with his assessment. Everyone wants a piece of the pie, it happens in every conflict and always will.

I'm just asking because I don't know.....isn't it much easier to work with the other services since SOCOM came into being? Everyone isn't AS territorial as they used to be, right?
I don't think glory was the main objective for anyone. SEALs are the best at what they do, just as the Rangers are the best at what they do. Each have their own strengths. There was action and everyone wanted in, which I think is understandable. But the Army was in charge of the planning. Maybe they weren't used to working together and that's why there was friction. I'm guessing that the Joint Special Operations Command was activated in 1990 so that these problems could be avoided in the future.

My :2c:

The commadore wanted glory for his navy :2c:

The Army didnt plan this, it was a navy op.