The deployment of additional American troops to Panama will bolster the U.S. presence there with armored vehicles as well as additional manpower once it is completed in a week or more.
The units will include two Army battalions and one Marine company. Dan Howard, the Pentagon's chief spokesman, said the Marines and one of the Army battalions will be bringing a large number of vehicles with them.A battalion from the 5th Infantry Division at Fort Polk, La., will travel to Panama by sea with 726 soldiers and 59 M-113 armored personnel carriers; six M-106 mortar vehicles and 106 support vehicles.
The Marine company, meantime, will travel by air with 18 Light Armored Vehicles, a relatively new weapon introduced to Marine forces in 1984 that has eight wheels, can ford streams and carries a 22mm chain gun and 7.62mm machine gun.
One Pentagon official who requested anonymity said the Defense Department had made a deliberate decision to move in armored personnel carriers because of a concern they might be needed to evacuate Americans.
The other Army battalion is being dispatched by air from the 7th Light Infantry Division at Fort Ord, Calif., Howard said. It will include 890 soldiers in a battalion, plus one headquarters company of 100 soldiers.
The first soldiers headed south Thursday night as almost 1,000 infantry troops left Fort Ord. The 7th Light Infantry Division at Fort Ord dispatched 880 combat troops and 100 cooks, medics and other support soldiers to Travis Air Force Base, 160 miles away, for the flight to Central America.
But Howard added a total of 70 airplane flights, using C-141 cargo planes, and several days will be required to complete the aerial deployment of the troops and Marines.