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The Army and the Drug War: Politics or National Security

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Journal article

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On 15 July 1986, six US Army Blackhawk helicopters from the 210th Combat Aviation Battalion, 193d Infantry Brigade Panama, deployed to Bolivia to conduct an operation never before attempted on a large scale by a US Army combat unit. Called Task Force Janus, the units mission was to provide air transportation, at the direction of representatives of the US Drug Enforcement Administration DEA contingent stationed with the US Embassy in La Paz, to Bolivian counterdrug police forces as they sought to locate and destroy cocaine production laboratories. The US Ambassador to Bolivia retained overall responsibility for US involvement in the operation. This JCS-directed operation, called Operation Blast Furnace, came just three months after President Reagan had announced that his Administration was declaring a war on drugs. Task Force Janus returned home in November of the same year amid public accolades for a successful operation. But while 22 cocaine labs had been discovered, no cocaine of any significance was seized and no arrests were made. Illicit drug production in Bolivia was severely disrupted while the US military was in country, but it quickly returned to a near-normal output once the Americans had gone home. Only a few days after the task force departed Bolivia, a political cartoon appeared in one of the major US newspapers. It showed the sky filled with US helicopters leaving Bolivia, while the caption between two of the pilots read, This reminds me of Vietnam. We go in with a large force, accomplish almost nothing, declare victory, then go home. For me, that cartoon was the catalyst for more than a years worth of wrestling with a number of questions. Did Operation Blast Furnace have any real significance How do you define success in a counterdrug operation Did Blast Furnace have any connection to our own national security or was it just an inconsequential move on a political chessboard

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  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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