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Heritage Corner: Operation Just Cause

  • Published
  • By Maj. Miguel Lopez
  • 552nd Air Control Wing

The US launched Operation Just Cause against Panama’s dictator, Manual Noriega, on December 20, 1989. Over 27,680 troops and 300 aircraft participated. Tactical Air Command requested two 552nd Air Control Wing E-3 Sentry aircraft to manage the air battle and support to search and rescue.

Major General Downing, commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force, said “if intelligence, radar, or AWACS detected Noriega attempting to escape by air, AC-130 gunships or F-16 fighters would intercept his aircraft and order it to land. If the pilot refused to obey the order, the U.S. military aircraft, upon authorization from [Secretary of Defense] Cheney, would shoot down the suspect aircraft.”

Within several hours of the invasion, the U.S. secured various key Panamanian positions. Combat operations continued for several weeks. Without many options, Noriega gained refuge in the Vatican diplomatic mission in Panama City.

He would surrender on January 3, 1990, after several weeks of US military blasting rock-and-roll music day and night at the Vatican mission.