Panama Ground Forces

Panama has no military forces. Following the 1989 US invasion, the Panamanian military was abolished. Panama’s security institutions have undergone significant reforms starting in 2008, including the merging of the coast guard and police air wing and the development of the border defence force. The Public Security Forces of Panama (Fuerza Pública de Panama), includes the National Police (Policia Nacional) National Air-Naval Service (Servicio Nacional Aeronaval-ENAN), and the National Border Service (Servicio Nacional de Fronteras-SENAFRONT). The three bodies fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Public Security (Ministerio de Seguridad Pública) which was created in 2010. None of these entities are an army, in that they lack weapons heavier than rifles, and had no armored vehicles. The precise differnce between "police" and "military" can be hard to determine at times, as witnessed by the debate in the United States over Militarization of Police. Indeed, it might be argued that it was easy for Panama to abolish its "army" since the army-like Panama Defense Forces (PDF)
(Fuerzas de Defensa de Panama — FDP)
had only been in existence for a few years, and never had much more than a few dozen small armored cars in the way of "military" equipment, gear that in the United States of the 21st Century was not uncommon in local cop shops.

Panama's Ground Forces, officially the Ground Forces for Defense and National Security (Fuerzas Terrestres de Defensa y Seguridad Nacional), constituted a critical element within the FDP in the late 1980s. Their primary mission appeared to be to develop the capability to defend the canal after the year 2000.

The eight infantry companies, sometimes referred to as combat companies {compamas de combate) or rifle companies {compamas de fusileros), were generally patterned on the standard infantry rifle company of the United States Army, although the Panamanians did not have the wide range of equipment available to their United States counterparts. The infantry companies were usually commanded by captains who had lieutenants as executive officers and platoon leaders. Squads were led by sergeants. Directly subordinate to the office of the commander (comandancia) , the infantry companies were deployed at the discretion of the commander in chief. Although they had on occasion been used as quick-reaction, anti-riot forces, the establishment of a special unit within the Police Forces (the First Public Order Company—Doberman) had preempted their use for such purposes. The strength of the infantry companies was estimated to average 200 personnel each.

As of the mid-1980s, the FDP had sixteen V-150 and twelve to thirteen V-300 armored personnel carriers.

Infantry units were traditionally garrisoned within a thirty kilometer radius of Panama City, with the exception of one rifle company at David and two at Omar Torrijos Military Base (formerly Rio Hato). This deployment changed, however, with the creation of new combat battalions. In the late 1980s, the First Infantry Company, an airmobile company called the Tigres, was stationed at Tinajitas. The Second Infantry Company (Pumas) guarded General Omar Torrijos International Airport (more commonly known as Tocumen International Airport). The Third Infantry Company (Diablos Rojos) was located in David, the capital of Chiriqui Province, near the Costa Rican border. The Fourth Infantry Company (Urraca) was stationed at the Central Headquarters in Panama City to protect the General Staff and comandancia. The Fifth Military Police Company (Victoriano Lorenzo) was headquartered at Fort Amador in the canal area. The Sixth Infantry Company (Expedicionaria) and Seventh Infantry company (Macho del Monte) were headquartered at Omar Torrijos Military Base; these two companies, which controlled some of the country's light armored vehicles, once in essence represented Torrijos' s private army. Finally, the Eighth Military Police Company was stationed at Fort Espinar on the Atlantic side of the isthmus.

Another component of the Ground Forces was the Cavalry Squadron (Escuadron de Caballerfa), stationed at Panama Viejo. Although primarily a ceremonial unit, it was called upon to perform crowd-control duties when situations warranted. Cavalrymen assumed routine police duties when not employed in their mounted roles. The Cavalry Squadron had a long and colorful history. A mounted unit in the national police force dates back to the early days of the republic, when a frontier atmosphere prevailed and mounted troopers pursued cattle rustlers and other bandits.

Through the years the unit underwent various reorganizations and changes in deployment, eventually leaving its rural posts for Panama City. Despite its name, the mounted unit in the mid-1980s bore little organizational resemblance to the old-time, battalion-sized cavalry squadron. The unit was actually similar to an infantry company in that the squadron commander was a captain, his executive officer was a lieutenant, and the platoons and squads were led by lieutenants and sergeants, respectively.

The new mission assumed by the armed forces in the 1980s — defense of the canal — prompted the creation of four new combat battalions. The need for such battalions was premised on the belief that defense of the canal until the year 2000 and thereafter required the ability to defend not only the immediate environs of the waterway but also the various approaches to it. Fearing that conflicts elsewhere in Central America might spill over into Panama, the nation wanted to protect its borders with Colombia and Costa Rica.

Of the four battalions envisioned (Battalion 2000, Peace Battalion, Cemaco Battalion, and Pedro Prestan Battalion), Battalion 2000 was by far the most fully developed by the mid-1980s. It was headquartered at Fort Cimarron and commanded by a major who had a captain as his chief executive officer. The heart of Battalion 2000 's combat potential consisted of an airmobile company, an airborne company, a mechanized company, and an infantry company; the First Rifle Company at Tinajitas provided fire support.

The Peace Battalion, commanded by a captain, was headquartered in the town of Rio Sereno near the Costa Rican border. In theory, the Cemaco Battalion, also commanded by a captain, was to be headquartered in Darien Province at La Palma near the Colombian border. Nevertheless, as of late 1987 its status was uncertain. It appeared to be only a company-sized element despite its designation as a battalion, and its actual location had not been finalized. When established, the Pedro Prestan Battalion was to be headquartered in Corona. In 1989, it had not yet taken shape, however.

Also attached to the Ground Forces were a number of battalions supplying support services: the Military Police Battalion (Batallon de Policfa Militar), composed of the Fifth and Eighth Military Police Companies; the Military Health Battalion (Batallon de Salud Militar); the Transport Battalion (Batallon de Transporte y Mantenimiento); and the Military Engineering Battalion (Batallon de Ingeneria Militar). The Military Health Battalion was commanded by a captain and the others by majors.

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