Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH) was
authorized by the Joint Chiefs of Staff on 20 May 1986 and activated
by SOUTHCOM on 4 August 1986 in Quarry Heights, Panama. SOCSOUTH
used to be part of the SOUTHCOM J3 section, and Charlie 3rd of 7th
was a component of United States Army South (USARSO). Originally a
small unit, SOCSOUTH functioned primarily as a staff office of
SOUTHCOM. In August 1986, it was reorganized as a separate
headquarters and moved to Albrook Air Force Station, Panama, where
its offices resided in the basement of the Department of Defense
Schools building. In 1988, in accordance with the Panama Canal
Implementation Treaty, SOCSOUTH moved to Corozal East, Panama. In
June 1999, as one of the last units to leave the Republic of Panama,
SOCSOUTH moved to Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico.
To allow for the closing of Roosevelt Roads, SOCSOUTH moved to its
current location at Homestead Air Force base in April 2004. The
"temporary" headquarters consists of 32 modular office facilities.
SOCSOUTH is a joint headquarters, with 4 permanently assigned
operational units: Charlie Company 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces
Group; Charlie Company 3rd, Battalion 160th Special Operations
Aviation Regiment; Naval Special Warfare Group-Two Detachment South;
and the Joint Special Operations Air Component sourced by AFSOC.
Honored 5 times, SOCSOUTH received an Expeditionary Streamer for
Just Cause, and 4 Joint Meritorious Unit Awards (JUMA).
Operation Just Cause/Promote Liberty: In
December 1989, SOCSOUTH activated a task force and played a
significant role in executing Operation Just Cause, the U.S.
invasion of Panama. The key objective of Operation Just Cause was
the capture of Manuel Noriega and restoration of democracy in
Panama. To accomplish this objective the task force identified 3
principal missions: the capture of Noriega; destruction of the
Panamanian Defense Force (PDF); and the rescue of an American
citizen held captive. The Joint Special Operations Task Force
(JSOTF), commanded by Major General Wayne A. Downing, was divided
into smaller Task Forces (TF): TF Black (Army Special Forces), TF
Red (the Army's 75th Ranger Regiment), and TF White (SEALs and
Special Boat Unit assets).
During the initial invasion, each TF was given H-hour missions. TF
Red successfully assaulted the Torrijos and Tocumen Airfields. TF
White executed 4 separate missions: Deny use of the Paitilla
Airfield; destruction of a Panamanian patrol boat; and securing the
Atlantic and Pacific entrances of the Panama Canal. Finally, TF
Black composed of 3rd BN, 7th Special Forces Group (A), commanded by
Special Operations South Commander Colonel Robert C. Jacobelly, was
tasked with 2 reconnaissance missions, a direct action assault to
deny PDF access to the Pacora River Bridge, and removal of
Panamanian TV Channel 2 from the airways. In addition, TF Black
played a significant role in several post H-hour missions. TF
Black's post H-hour missions included stopping pro-Noriega radio
broadcasts and executing capitulation missions. Special Forces' (SF)
presence in Panama prior to the invasion enhanced their knowledge of
the culture and language making them an ideal force to secure the
countryside through capitulation missions. These capitulation
missions resulted in the surrender of 14 cartels, 2,000 troops and
6,000 weapons. Following the surrender of each military component,
TF Black left behind a small SF element to help the rebuilding
On 3 January 1990, after having his facility surrounded for 10 days,
Noriega surrendered to American forces. In the end, Special
Operations Forces (SOF) proved to be an effective force in executing
the objectives of Operation Just Cause. SOF played key roles in the
capture of Noriega, capture of Panama City, the security of Panama
Canal, the rescue of an American citizen, and the restoration of
democracy in Panama.
Humanitarian Relief Operations: Following
the devastation caused by Hurricanes Georges and Mitch in 1998,
SOCSOUTH provided immediate distribution of relief supplies while
participating in humanitarian relief missions. More than 80,000
pounds of supplies were delivered to needy victims by helicopter
within the Dominican Republic, and over 1,000 flood victims were
transported to safety, in Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
Operation Safe Border: In early 1995, a
long-standing border dispute between Ecuador and Peru resulted in
armed conflict. SOCSOUTH was designated the executive agent to plan
and organize the initial Military Observer Mission Ecuador/Peru
(MOMEP), a peacekeeping mission established to seek a resolution.
SOCSOUTH initiated a command and control element, provided military
assets, and deployed troops for the multinational peacekeeping
mission. Also providing support were Argentina, Brazil, and Chile.
The observer operation significantly reduced tension in the region,
leading to the withdrawal of 10,000 troops and demobilization of
140,000 troops. Ultimately the dispute was resolved in 1998. The
operation highlighted the important role SOF can play in the United
States' Preventive Defense program, and MOMEP also marked the first
time SOF were used in a multinational observer and observer support
roles in South America. The long-standing presence of SOF in the
region improved their language skills, knowledge of the region, and
culture and interoperability with Partner Nations (PNs), making them
an invaluable asset in helping to resolve the dispute. The command
was also a participant in the Inter-American Defense Board demining
program. SOCSOUTH's support of the program resulted in the removal
or destruction of 3,629 mines and the clearing of 275,241 square
meters of land.
Operation Willing Spirit (OWS): On 13
February 2003, a contracted reconnaissance plane carrying 4 U.S.
Department of Defense contractors, Keith Stansell, Marc Gonsalves,
Tom Janis, and Tom Howes, and 1 host nation rider, SGT Luis Alcides
Cruz crashed in the jungles of Colombia. The Fuerzas Armadas
Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) executed Tom Janis and SGT Cruz
at the crash site, and took Keith, Marc, and Tom as hostages. The
U.S. immediately initiated efforts to recover the 3 survivors. In
2005, under Operation OWS, the U.S. along with the Colombian
government and military began persistent activities from June 2005
to July 2008 with setting the conditions for a hostage recovery.
SOCSOUTH deployed a command and control element (C2) in Colombia,
Special Operations Command Forward (SOCFWD), for the purpose of
providing on-site coordination to aid in the recovery effort. On 2
July 2008, after over 5years in captivity, Keith, Marc, and Tom were
successfully rescued. The recovery was executed with no shots fired,
no loss of life, no wounded - and with the capture of 2 senior FARC