Just after 0200 hours, Central Standard Time, US Air Force F-111s appeared in the skies over Managua. The fighter-bombers struck eight targets; The Foreign ministry and Ministry of the Interior buildings, as well as a restrike against the Defense Ministry headquarters. Sandinista party headquarters, and the residences of four high-ranking party officials were also on the target list. By first light, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega had contacted his Costa Rican counterpart President Oscar Arias and requested that he make inquiries to the US government regarding the possibility of a ceasefire agreement. As proof of his sincerity, Ortega ordered the withdraw of Nicaraguan forces from the area of the Honduran border. Later in the morning, US ELINT flights and satellites confirmed the move was underway.
Nicaragua was looking for an exit from the conflict. The United States was extremely satisfied with this development and the Reagan administration, despite harboring a deep hatred of Ortega, was willing to help the Nicaraguan strongman find an out. In the grand scheme of things Central America was a sideshow unnecessarily tying up a large amount of US combat assets that could be better employed elsewhere.
Unfortunately for Washington, the internal situation in Panama was nowhere near reaching an acceptable resolution. Manuel Noriega continued to flex his muscles and defy the United States whenever and wherever possible. Fortunately for the Pentagon, the most critical US installations in Panama, as well as the Canal Zone, were secured and presently under the protection of US troops. The US government’s opinion on the threat Noriega posed to the war effort had undergone a dramatic reversal in the past twenty-four hours. This war would be won or lost in Europe. What occurred in Central American and the Caribbean from this point forward would have little, if any, bearing on the outcome of the conflict.
Although Noriega was still trouble, he was containable for the time being. The first troops of the 2nd Brigade/7th Infantry Division (Light) were expected to begin arriving in Panama in the afternoon of D+18. Until then, the forces presently on hand in the country could deal with any outbreak of violence or hostilities. The most significant factor here was the continuing function of canal activities. The eastward progression of US Navy warships and auxiliaries went on without respite. Battlegroup Romeo, the USS New Jersey and her escorts began their transit late in the morning of D+17.
In the Caribbean Sea on the island of Cuba, conditions were deteriorating as the day progressed. Very little solid information was coming out of the island. Reports surfaced of fighting going on around a handful of Cuban military installations, but there was no confirmation of this by Cuban authorities or the media. Radio Martí was even reporting that firefights between pro-Soviet and loyal Cuban military troops had broken out in parts of Havana. The US government monitored the situation closely. Guantanamo Bay was being left alone. The area outside the large US naval base was quiet. Yet electronic and signals intelligence efforts were picking up disturbing information that indicated the fighting in Cuba was likely to become worse before long.
A government announcement early in the evening on Cuban state media seemed to confirm this. Fidel Castro would address his people and the nations of the world the next morning at 8:00 AM Havana time.