Operation Blast Furnace

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Bolivia (1986)

Counterdrug operations conducted in Bolivia throughout the summer of 1992 provide an opportunity to see the influence of our drug strategies upon current operations and the relationship of these operations to the host nations' interests and attitudes. A history of our involvement with counterdrug efforts here could begin with the August 1983 U.S.-Bolivian treaties, which provided a basis for U.S. funding support for Bolivian counterdrug efforts. This enabled the creation of a 300-man UMOPAR (Los Leopardos-The Leopards), whose task was to eradicate the cocaine trade flourishing in the departments of Cochabamba and Santa Cruz.12 By the summer of 1984 the UMOPAR, joined by 1,500 Bolivian soldiers, entered the Chapare region of Cochabamba to tear apart the drug industry. The operations were unpopular and peasant demonstrations caused the withdrawal of the troops from the Chapare "military zone." In July 1986, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs authorized U.S. troops to provide temporary logistical support for National Police Corps find-and-destroy operations against coca-processing facilities in the Chapare region and the Beni and Santa Cruz departments. Operation "Blast Furnace" provided U.S. training assistance (aviation and counterinsurgency) and helicopter transportation to the UMOPAR and others to search out and destroy coca processing facilities (coca base and cocaine hydrochloride laboratories). Six U.S. Blackhawk helicopters and 160 U.S. support personnel arrived in Bolivia on July 14 to provide air mobility to Bolivian anti-drug forces. [1]

Blast Furnace was ill-fated: its focus shifted from attacking cocaine laboratories to law enforcement raids against traffickers in the villages. This caused the operation to be seen as an attack against the peasants, who "were mobilized by the narcotraffickers to violently oppose the raiders." Also, publicity of the action enabled narco- traffickers to leave target areas ahead of the DEA-UMOPAR. The disruptive effect of Blast Furnace was short lived: it was a matter of too few resources and too short a time. The four-month operation depressed coca prices below production costs, but things returned to normal at the end of the operation. The positive effects, however, were long-lasting, in that a basis for joint combined interagency cooperation had been forged, and Blast Furnace was an effective training exercise for Bolivian and American personnel. Blast Furnace also hardened local attitudes against counterdrug forces. Coca farmers were incited by narcotraffickers and peasant union federations to support demonstrations (a problem still today). In October 1986, just before the end of Blast Furnace, around 6,000 residents of the Beni town of Santa Ana de Yacuma expelled 150 United States soldiers and UMOPAR members. [ibid]


  • John T. Fishel, Lieutenant Colonel, USAR, "Developing A Drug War Strategy, Lessons Learned from Operation Blast Furnace," Military Review, June 1991, p. 64. This article provides a thorough analysis of the problems of planning and conducting a large counterdrug operation in overseas areas. It offers some valuable lessons for future planning.
  • Michael H. Abbott, Colonel, U.S. Army, with Murl D. Munger, "U.S. Army Involvement in Counterdrug Operations--A Matter of Politics or National Security?," U.S. Army War College Military Studies Program Paper (Carlisle, PA: March 30, 1988). The author was the aviation battalion commander who deployed assets to Bolivia in support of Blast Furnace. His conclusion is that "the introduction of U.S. military forces into the sovereign territory of a source country is neither an effective nor appropriate approach."
  • Hudson and Hanratty, p. 265. Santa Ana De Yacuma has been a safe haven for narcotraffickers; a large Bolivian operation was conducted in 1991 to reaffirm government sovereignty over the town.