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Battle of Rio Hato Airfield
Part of the United States invasion of Panama
DateDecember 20, 1989
LocationRio Hato, Panama
Result American victory
United States United States Panama Panama
Commanders and leaders
William F. "Buck" Kernan Maj. Gonzalo Gonzalez
Units involved
75th Ranger Regiment
2nd Ranger Battalion
3rd Ranger Battalion
Panama Defense Force Macho de Montes Battalion
6th Rifle Company
7th Rifle Company
837 paratroopers
two AC-130 Spectre gunships
two AH-64 Apache attack helicopters
two AH-6 “Little Bird” attack helicopters
two F-117 Stealth Fighters
520 foot soldiers
150 automatic rifles
42 machine guns
9 bazookas
4 recoilless rifles
23 mortar systems
19 armor vehicles
6 ZPUs
Casualties and losses
4 KIA, 44 WIA 34 KIA, 362 PoW
Low civilian casualties

The Battle of Rio Hato Airfield took place during the U.S invasion of Panama and was fought between the U.S military and the Panamanian Defense Force (PDF). On December 20, U.S paratroopers launched a surprise attack against the Panamanian army at Rio Hato, the largest PDF military base, approximately seventy miles south of Panama City. The objective of the attack was to capture the PDF garrison at the base, secure the airfield runway, and seize Manuel Noriega's beachside house.[1]

Battle[edit | edit source]

At H-hour two F–117A stealth fighter-bombers delivered two 2,000-lb. precision bombs in an attempt to stun and confuse the PDF garrison of two heavily armed infantry companies defending the airfield. Instead of landing at their targets both bombs set off nearby waking the garrison. The PDF 6th and 7th Rifle companies numbered at 520 troops in all. In addition to this the 7th company was known to be "part of Noriega's best trained and most loyal forces".[2]

Thirteen C–130 transport aircraft, having flown nonstop from the United States, parachuted in two battalions of rangers from a dangerously low altitude of 500 feet. The paratroopers suffered casualties when they received fire in the air and a dozen were injured while landing. Gathering quickly in the darkness, two companies of rangers fanned out to isolate the airfield, cut the Pan-American Highway running through it, and seize a nearby ammunition dump.[3]

Meanwhile, another company attacked a nearby NCO academy complex and yet another struck the two PDF companies deployed to defend the airfield. The fighting turned into a ferocious exchange of fire, with the ground fire of the rangers heavily reinforced by fires from an AC–130 gunship and attack helicopters. In one case of mistaken identity, a U.S attack helicopter mistook a squad of rangers for a group of PDF and fired, killing two and injuring four. Contested buildings fell in room-to-room fighting following a liberal use of grenades and automatic rifles at close ranges. Within five hours the rangers had secured Rio Hato, including Noriega’s lavish beach house nearby.

Casualties[edit | edit source]

The U.S military lost 4 killed, 18 wounded, and 26 injured in the jump.[2][4] At Rio Hato, the PDF lost 34 soldiers killed, 362 captured, and a huge inventory of weapons abandoned. Around 200 PDF soldiers managed to flee into the countryside and evade capture.

References[edit | edit source]

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