LA PAZ, Bolivia — U.S. troops and a Bolivian strike force seized a hidden jungle narcotics camp capable of producing more than 2 tons of pure cocaine a week in the biggest triumph of the joint operation, a government spokesman said today.
U.S. pilots and the U.S.-financed Leopards cocaine strike force captured the laboratory, one of the biggest ever seized in Bolivia, Wednesday, Information Minister Herman Antelo said.
The joint forces made no arrests and found only residues of cocaine in the laboratory, he said.
Drug traffickers intercepted radio transmissions that tipped them off to the impending raid last Friday and fled the narcotics camp in two twin-engine planes on Sunday, Antelo said peasants told the police.
The narcotics laboratory is in a little-inhabited jungle region in the north of Bolivia's La Paz state, Antelo said.
Cocaine traffickers at the settlement apparently used a mile-long airstrip near the camp, he said. The settlement contained 18 tents and appeared to house about 100 workers, he added.
At the invitation of President Victor Paz Estenssoro, about 170 U.S. soldiers and six Black Hawk helicopters began arriving in Bolivia 11 days ago for an unprecedented series of joint narcotics raids on cocaine processing facilities.
The U.S. government had never sent U.S. troops abroad before to take part in anti-narcotics operations.
Until Wednesday, U.S. troops had provided logistical support to the Leopards strike force for raids only in Bolivia's northeastern Beni state.
Antelo had mentioned the new seizure at a briefing Wednesday, saying the only information he had was that a drug-related "installation" was captured in the northern jungles of La Paz state.
Twice as Big
He said today the new narcotics camp is twice as big as the seized El Zorro cocaine laboratory raided by police and troops last Friday in Beni state and was capable of producing more than two tons of pure cocaine a week.
The Leopards arriving at the abandoned camp found a new Suzuki pickup truck, a motorcycle, drinking water wells, three refrigerators and a storehouse of food and medicine, Antelo said.
"It is estimated that the laboratory has been in operation since 1982," he said.