Thursday, February 22, 2007

FEMALE ON THE FLOOR! The storming of Panama *1

The climax was near. On December 15 the 500-member Assembly of People’s Power, controlled by the Revolutionary Democratic Party and other parties loyal to General Noriega, proclaimed him Head State, eschewing further pretense of constitutional democracy and openly acknowledging a military dictatorship for the first time. This came just days before the last and most deadly serious incident of harassment of U.S. army personnel by the Panama Defense Forces in which Lt. Roberto Paz was shot dead as he gunned his car away from a PDF roadblock.

Television viewers in Panama City watching the late movie on Channel 8, the channel of the U.S, forces in Panama, on the night of December 19th 1989 knew something was about to happen. Suddenly, across the bottom of the screen where the Personnel Movement Limitation is intermittently broadcast, the message upgraded from PML Delta which means “movement off base prohibited except on designated routes” to PML Echo which means, in effect: War.

Shortly afterwards, the night was hideous with the din of explosions. The heavy “crunch” of mortar and howitzer shells and the rattle of machine gun fire continued through the night and the district of Chorillo surrounding the headquarters of the Panama Defence Forces went up in flames. The Americans had finally invaded. For over a year before, Panamanians had speculated on this eventuality, but few really believed it would happen, even though General Manuel Antonio Noriega, to supplement his already powerful army, had poured considerable resources into training a civilian paramilitary force to “give their lives” for Panama in the fight against the “Yankee aggressor”

As 1989 drew to a close, however, relations between the U.S. and the Noriega-dominated Panama government had deteriorated to the point where it was no particular surprise when the giant C141 transport planes began to arrive at Howard Air Force Base indicating that something was happening at last.

The American attack, which threw 26,000 troops against Noriega’s army, was the larges U.S. military operation since Vietnam and the largest ever to be undertaken as “intervention” in the affairs of a normally friendly country.

The U.S.A. had labeled the invasion “Operation Just Cause” and President George Bush appeared on network T.V. as the inferno at Chorillo was lighting the sky above Panama City, to explain its four objectives: to protect American lives, maintain the security of the Panama Canal, restore democracy to Panama and to capture Noriega and bring him to justice.

The military objective was to strike with sufficient force and suddenness to quickly disable the Panama Defense Forces. To accomplish this, a massive airlift was organized from various military bases in the U.S. to combine with forces already in Panama. Altogether 13,000 troops from the Southern Command based in Panama, including 9,500 combat soldiers, were supplemented by a further 13,000 troops, 10,500 of them combat soldiers, flown in from the U.S.

It was a complex operation involving airborne and air-assault troops from the States linking up in the hours of darkness with on-the-ground armoured, light infantry and special operations units. More than 3,000 men parachuted in—the biggest combat drop since World War II. The time of the assault, designated “H—hour”, was set at 1 a.m. on December 20 but was brought forward half an hour at the last moment for fear that troop movements might alert the PDF. Shortly before H-hour, U.S. commandos apparently went in on a covert operation to try to kidnap Noriega but their mission failed … he was not where they thought he would be.

copied from source: Jones, Kenneth J. Copyright 1990 Focus Publications. El Dorado, Panama, R.P.

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