By: Friedrich Seiltgen

Copyright © 2021

In the early hours of December 20, 1989, U.S. Forces invaded the country of Panama in what is known as Operation Acid Gambit.

The situation between the United States and Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega had been deteriorating for months prior, and the attack on four U.S. Army officers by Panamanian troops a few days earlier put the invasion on a fast track.

Noriega was a CIA asset for many years, but his usefulness was now in question. Another CIA asset/operative in the country was Kurt Muse. Muse owned a publishing company in Panama, and as things got ugly between the two countries, Muse was arrested and charged with espionage. Noriega had Muse imprisoned in the infamous Modelo Prison in downtown Panama City, threatening him with execution for being a spy. Muse was also told if any attempt to rescue him was made, he would be executed immediately. Noriega even had a guard stand post by his cell with orders to kill Muse if any attempt to rescue him was made.

The order was given to rescue Muse simultaneously with the invasion of Panama. Delta Force’s 2 Troop was given the rescue mission. The only intel about Muse’s condition and whereabouts came from an American doctor who was treating Muse in prison.

Here’s the Plan

The plan consisted of 23 Delta operators and four MH-6 Little Bird helicopters from the 160th Special Operation Aviation Regiment – The “Night Stalkers.” The Delta Operators would land on the roof of the prison, breach the door to the roof, locate Muse, and fly back to Howard AFB. Pretty simple, right!?

As the invasion of Panama began, attention was drawn from the prison by U.S.A.F. Spectre Gunships hammering away at the Panamanian Military Headquarters, which was near the prison. As the operators landed on the rooftop, they were met with gunfire from multiple positions. While Delta Snipers and heavy machine gunners went to work outside, the assault force breached the rooftop door, and then made their way down to Muse’s cell.

They breached the cell door and started heading back to the roof for extraction. The rescue team was six minutes into the operation – the longest six minutes you could imagine! As the “Little Bird” carrying Muse struggled to lift off from the prison roof, it immediately headed for the ground, as it was now severely overweight. As the helicopter “drove” down the street, it was hit by enemy fire and crashed.  One of the operators had been shot, and others wounded from the crash. Despite all of this, the team set up a defensive position while waiting for Delta-manned APCs to come to the rescue. The rescue team arrived and escorted the team and Muse back to base. Every one of the Delta operators recovered from their injuries and continued to serve with Delta.

Ghosts of Rescues Past

Despite the problems, Muse was rescued, and the operation was a success. Although it was not their fault, Delta operators had been living with the failure of the “Desert One” mission for ten years, but this time, they were victorious. The Muse raid was the first successful mission for Delta Force.

That’s all for now folks! Please keep sending in your questions, tips, and article ideas. And as always – “Let’s be careful out there.”

Friedrich Seiltgen is a retired Master Police Officer with 20 years of service with the Orlando Police Department. He conducts training in Lone Wolf Terrorism, Firearms, First Aid, Active Shooter Response, and Law Enforcement Vehicle Operations in Florida. His writing has appeared in RECOIL, The Counter Terrorist Magazine, American Thinker, Homeland Security Today, and The Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International. Contact him at [email protected].