Operation Nifty Package


Operation Nifty Package was a US Navy SEAL plan conducted in 1989 to apprehend or prevent the escape of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega.

Forty-eight SEALs (three SEAL Platoons) were tasked with destroying Noriega’s private jet on the ground in Panama City. This part of the mission put the SEALs into a skirmish with Panamanian military forces guarding the airport, and four SEALs were killed and eight wounded. Despite the casualties, a well-aimed AT4 rocket destroyed Noriega’s plane.

Another Navy SEAL group, consisting of four divers and men on Zodiac attack boats, was assigned to sabotage Noriega’s heavily armed gunboat while it was tied to a pier on the canal. The four divers swam in the canal while being attacked with Panamanian grenades. They also had to avoid a boat that was a suspected Soviet intelligence vessel. Two of the divers descended to the bottom of the canal, beyond the maximum operating limit of their breathing units, and, with two bombs, successfully destroyed Noriega’s gunboat.

Manuel Noriega fled to Panama’s Apostolic Nunciature (a Vatican embassy) and threatened to he call for guerrilla warfare if the Catholic church denied him asylum. American soldiers set up a perimeter outside this building, as any direct action against the embassy itself would have violated international laws, constituted an act of war on the Vatican, and enraged Roman Catholics worldwide.

The soldiers surrounding the embassy used psychological warfare, attempting to force the defeated ruler out using the continuous noise from a low flying helicopter and loud music. People on the ground at the time report that the music was used to prevent eavesdropping by reporters using directional microphones on confidential discussions between Vatican staff and the US military. Reportedly the song ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ by Guns and Roses was played repeatedly, as was ‘I Fought The Law’ by The Clash.

Though the Vatican wished for Noriega to be expelled from the nunciature as well, The Holy See complained to President George H.W. Bush about actions of the American soldiers surrounding the embassy. Soon afterward, they were ordered to stop. After a demonstration a few days later by thousands of Panamanians demanding he stand trial for human rights violations, Noriega surrendered on January 3, 1990.


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