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Operation Just Cause

Operation Just Cause
Tension between the U.S. government and the Noriega regime government.


0100 GMT -05:00 December 20, 1989
(local time in Panama)



Operation Nimrod Dancer
Operation Blade Jewel
Declaration of state of war with U.S. government by the National Assembly of Panama in December 15, 1989


Manuel Noriega
Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF)


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


Capture of Manuel Noriega.
Military defeat of PDF.
Conservation of Panama's Canal Zone.
Opposing parties
Assaulters Defendants
U.S. military Panama's local militia and citizens
Joint Task Force South (JTFSO) Panamanian Defense Force
24,000 troops 16,000 troops
23 KIA
324 WIA
314 KIA
Unestimated civilian casualties

Operation Just Cause was the U.S. military invasion of Panama which deposed Manuel Noriega in December 1989; during the administration of U.S. President George H. W. Bush.

Table of contents
1 General information
2 American units involved in the operation
3 Related operations
4 References

General information

Just Cause D-Day and H-Hour was December 20, 1989, 0100 local time. Over three hundred aircraft moved troops, attacked targets or provided other support. Twenty-four thousand U.S. troops were deployed against the sixteen thousand members of the Panama Defense Force. The force was quickly incapacitated; senior officers were killed, captured, or more commonly, abandoned their men. The attack touched off fires and looting by impoverished Panamanians.

The operation quickly proceeded and decentralized resistance, criminal activity and the hunt for Noriega replaced clear-cut initial objectives.

By January, combat forces had begun to withdraw and reconstruction of the Panamanian government began under the name Operation Promote Liberty. The Americans lost twenty-three soldiers killed in action (KIA) and 324 wounded (WIA). Panamanian deaths were more difficult to calculate. The Defense Forces lost 314 dead, and another two hundred civilians are known to have died, although this number may not include people in destroyed buildings whose bodies were never recovered.

Planned under the name Plan Blue Spoon, the actual invasion incorporated elements of the Nifty Package and Acid Gambit plans. At the time, U.S. military operations were given randomly-generated names; “Blue Spoon” was changed to “Just Cause” for aesthetic reasons.

Two years after the invasion, the French Press Agency reported that “thousands of Panamians marked the day with a 'black march' through the streets of this capital to denounce the U.S. invasion and the Endara economic policies.” The agency also claimed that U.S. troops had killed 3,000 people, and buried many corpses in mass graves or thrown them into the sea. The allegation is widely disputed among Panamanians. The ‘black march’ was funded and organized by a private French group.

American units involved in the operation

Related operations


  1. Hagemeister, Stacy & Solon, Jenny. Operation Just Cause: Lessons Learned – Volume I, II & III (Bulletin No. 90-9). Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: Center for Army Lessons Learned – US Army Combined Arms Command. October, 1990.