December History - Operation Just Cause

  • Published
  • By Mr. Daniel Pensiero

In 1977, President Carter signed the Torrijos-Carter Agreement setting in motion the transfer of power over the Panama Canal to the Panamanian Gov. while ensuring American interests in the canal region would be secure.

In the 1980’s relations between the United States and Panamanian leader General Manuel Noriega began to deteriorate, due to Noriega’s using his ties with the DEA to shelter drug traffickers from investigation, while simultaneously laundering and accepting drug money. 

Noriega had at one point been an intelligence asset for the CIA, and in 1988 President Bush (former CIA Director) was hesitant to get into a conflict with someone he had previous dealings with.

In March of 1988, Noriega resisted a coup attempt, and began growing closer with Soviet Russia.

In May 1989, Noriega invalidated a national election, which he lost by a 3:1 margin, and had his political opponent attacked in the street.

A second coup attempt was thwarted in October 1989, and pressure began to mount on President Bush to take direct action.

On 15 December, the Panamanian government issued a decree that a state of war existed between the United States and Panama.

The following day, 4 U.S. officers were surrounded at a road block where Marine 1stLt Robert Paz was killed, Marine Capt Richard Hadded was shot in the foot, and a Naval Officer and his wife, who witnessed the event, were arrested, beaten and threatened.

Following the events of 16 December, President Bush issued orders to invade Panama.  The Joint Chiefs decided on 20 December 1989, 0100 for the attack.

The invasion involved 27,684 US troops, and more than 300 aircraft.

The 514th (then titled Mobility Airlift Wing (Associate)) were among the first crews to take part in the assault, air dropping Army troops during the initial hours of the invasion.

Overall, the 514th flew 17 missions, 43 sorties, delivered 227.9 tons of cargo, transported 626 passengers and accumulated 150.6 flying hours during the operation. 

The operation was a complete success.  Officially lasting from 20 December 1989 to 31 January 1990, on 3 January Noriega surrendered to US forces.  U.S. casualties were 23 killed, 325 wounded.

Beyond the accomplishment of the mission, JUST CAUSE showed vast improvements on planning and executing joint operations following the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986.