Rio Hato Part I

f-117_02-frontThe most distant target to be struck was fifty miles away from the Canal Zone at the Rio Hato Military Base, where about 500 PDF soldiers of the 6th and 7th Companies were stationed. Noriega’s beach house was near the installation, and there were concerns that if he eluded capture near Panama City, he might try to leave the country from the nearby military airfield. Equally important were the two PDF companies stationed there. The 6th Company was of uncertain ability, but the 7th Company had played a critical role in rescuing Noriega during the October coup attempt. OPLAN 90-2 called for two Ranger battalions, almost 900 men, to parachute onto this objective at H-hour. Operation Just Cause

At 0100 two F-117A “Stealth” fighters each dropped a 2,000-pound bomb in the vicinity of the PDF barracks. The intent was to catch the enemy soldiers in their barracks and stun them with overwhelming firepower. Because of poor targeting data, one bomb overshot its mark by several hundred yards and the second bomb fell dangerously closer to the barracks than intended. The utility of this opening attack, however, was minimized by the compromised operational security. The two companies, already alerted to an imminent attack, had vacated their barracks.

As soon as the bombs exploded, an AC-130 gunship engaged selected targets around the military base and AH-1 and AH-64 helicopters soon joined in. Less than five minutes after the assault began, the sky above the airfield was filled with parachutes. This was a 360degree fight, with no front lines and PDF and Rangers intermixed throughout the battlefield. By sunrise Rio Hato Military Base was…..