US Dispatches 100 Troops To Panama as ‘Prudent’ Security Measure With AM-Panama Bjt
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Pentagon on Monday dispatched about 100 Marine and Air Force security personnel to Panama in what it described as a ″prudent measure″ to help safeguard American personnel and facilities there.
Cmdr. Robert Prucha, a Pentagon spokesman, said a 60-man Marine security force - including a six-man dog handling team - was flown to Panama on Monday from Norfolk, Va.
In addition, a 44-man Air Force military police unit was flown to the Central American nation from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Prucha said.
″This is simply a prudent measure to augment the security personnel who are already in place,″ the spokesman said.
There are currently about 600 servicemen assigned to security duties in Panama with the U.S. Southern Command, which is headquartered there, Prucha said.
All told, there are about 10,000 American troops in Panama.
Pentagon officials who asked not to be named said the dispatch of the troops had been approved on Monday by Adm. William Crowe, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Reagan administration has been using financial pressure in a bid to oust Panamanian strongman Gen. Manuel A. Noriega ″and we don’t want to be caught unprepared if he responds by trying to sabotage canal equipment or other facilities,″ said one official.
The sources said the Marine unit was ″a fleet anti-terrorist security team″ that could be used to keep watch on the Panama Canal, an oil pipeline that carries Alaskan oil across Panama, and the U.S. Embassy.
The Air Force unit, a so-called ″air base ground defense flight,″ is trained in maintaining security around the perimeters of military bases, the officials said.
While there is no evidence of sabotage and no reason at this point to anticipate an attack on U.S. facilities by Panamanians, ″there have been a number of bomb scares recently,″ said one official.
″We don’t want to over-react, but we don’t want to get caught flat-footed, either,″ said another source.
Capt. Nancy LaLuntas, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said Monday there had been no change in the alert status for U.S. personnel in Panama and that the lowest form of alert - ″Alpha″ - was still in place.
″We are not sending in combat troops,″ the spokeswoman stressed. ″These are police and security units.″