Battle of Rio Hato Airfield
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 20 December US paratroopers launched a surprise attack against the Panamanian Army at Rio Hato, the largest PDF military base, approximately seventy miles south of Panama City.
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 a "part of Noriega's best trained and most loyal forces".
Thirteen C-130 Hercules 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.
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 support from an AC-130 "Spectre" gunship and several attack helicopters.
The contested buildings fell in room-to-room fighting following a liberal use of grenades and automatic rifles at close ranges. The Battle of Rio Hato Airfield in total, went on for roughly five hours, by which time the rangers had secured Rio Hato, as well as Noriega’s lavish beach house nearby.
However, in one case of mistaken identity, a US attack helicopter mistook a squad of rangers for a group of PDF and fired, killing two rangers and wounding four rangers.
The U.S military lost 4 killed, 18 wounded, and 26 injured in the jump. 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.
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