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IS U.S. PLANNING LATIN DRUG RAID?

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The United States is planning a decisive blow against South American drug chiefs by staging a hemispheric drug raid using the armies of three nations where the cocaine cartel operates, a published report said Saturday.

Newsweek magazine said briefing papers obtained from the U.S. Southern Command headquarters in Panama documented plans for a raid carried out by the armies of Colombia, Bolivia and Peru and coordinated by the Southern Command.The magazine attributed the plan to Gen. Max Thurman, head of the Southern Command who was responsible for the U.S. invasion of Panama and the seizure of Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega. It said the armies of the three participating countries would hit targets only in their own countries.

The attack would involve a massive use of force applied swiftly and simultaneously to the cartel's "entire support structure," according to briefing documents.

Possible targets include the drug lords' homes, drug-processing centers and clandestine airfields used for drug smuggling, the magazine said.

Although U.S. troops are slated to play only a background role in the strike, Thurman is prepared to use them if the need arises, the magazine said.

The Pentagon also has plans to send American commandos to seize at least two Colombian drug chiefs if President Bush gives the order, Newsweek said.

No date has been picked for the attack, but Newsweek said it had been told by a senior Southern Command officer that the intelligence necessary to pick targets would be ready as early as August.