Tensions in the Central American nation of Panama escalated through the late 1980s as military dictator Manuel Noriega threatened the security of the Panama Canal. On December 20, 1989, President George H.W. Bush sent American troops into Panama to capture Noriega. Named ''Operation Just Cause,'' this brief invasion relied primarily on U.S. Army forces, along with support from the other three branches; the U.S. Marine Corps secured a key bridge and assisted in other engagements.

Before Operation Just Cause

President Ronald Reagan deployed a company of U.S. Marines to Panama in early 1988, according to R. Cody Phillips’ report on the invasion for the U.S. Army Center for Military History. After Noriega declared war on the U.S. on December 16, 1989, members of the Panama Defense Force fatally shot an off-duty Marine officer. The death of a Marine created one of the final catalysts for the invasion.

Operation Just Cause

The invasion coordinated incoming forces with two companies of Marines already stationed in Panama; Semper Fi, centered on the 6th Marine Expeditionary Battalion, was one of the four key task forces in the initial assault. Task Force Semper Fi secured the crucial Bridge of the Americas, spanning the Panama Canal, and the environs of Howard Air Force Base. Marines assisted the ground attack on La Commandancia, Noriega’s heavily protected command center, and on Renacer Prison. The invasion was a coordinated effort by all four branches of the U.S. military.