U.S. used Manta base in Ecuador to attack Ecuador

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“Five ‘smart bombs’ … were launched at night from planes flying at high velocity.”

Hmm…who knows how to do that?

Kintto Lucas filed this report for IPS.

Military Sources Confirm that the U.S. Used the Manta Base in Ecuador to Attack the FARC Camp

Military and diplomatic sources link the Manta Airbase, operated by the United States in Ecuadoran territory with the attack of the Colombian FARC guerrillas in which Raúl Reyes died.

The base, situated some 230 kilometers to the southeast of Quito, a port city on the Pacific ocean, was ceded for 10 years in 1999 to the United States Air Force for use in anti-drug trafficking activities in the northeast portion of South America.

A senior Ecuadoran military officer who asked that his name not be disclosed, assured IPS (InterPress Service) that “a good portion of commanders” are “convinced that the United States was complicit in the attack” launched March 1st in Ecuadoran territory against the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) camp located very close to the Colombian border.

“Since 2000, when it launched Plan Colombia, a strategic alliance between the United States and Colombia was consolidated, first to fight the insurgency and later to involve neighboring countries in that war. What is happening today is a consequence of that,” according to the military officer.

Plan Colombia is carried out by Bogotá to fight the insurgency and drug trafficking, with support and funding from the United States.

Ecuador’s Defense Minister, Wellington Sandoval, should investigate whether the Manta base was used for the attack and, according to the agreement signed by Washington and Quito, the Ecuadoran army should perform the audit.

The agreement between Ecuador and the United States provides that Manta’s facilities can only be used for anti-drug efforts.

Sandovál made clear that he could not divulge any details until the investigation had been completed.

But the military source assured IPS that “all flights leaving the base in the 20 days preceding the bombing, who was aboard those flights, their routes and investigative purpose, as well as other inquiries and background information, should be reviewed.”

On Thursday March 13th, the Ecuadoran Foreign Minister María Isabel Salvador said that she had had “a conversation with the (United States) ambassador Linda Jewell, and she assured us that the planes there presently had no involvement whatsoever” in the attack.

But the military source asserted that “the technology used, first to detect the target, in this case the camp, and later to attack it, belongs to the United States.”

Minister Sandoval has said that the bombing used “equipment that the Latin American armed forces do not possess.”

“Five ‘smart bombs’ more or less,” used by the United States in its 1991 Gulf War, with impressive precision and a one meter margin of error, “were launched at night from planes flying at high velocity,” he added.

The military source consulted by IPS said that “an attack with ‘smart’ bombs requires that the pilots have experience in this type of operation, and those with such experience are the North Americans. That’s why I believe that they did the work and later told the Colombians to ‘go ahead now and look for the bodies,’ after which the helicopters and Colombian troops arrived” on the scene, he maintained.

The Colombian government’s official version, as outlined by a commission from the Organization of American States (OAS) which visited both countries, stated that 10 “conventional” bombs were launched from five Brazilian manufactured Super Tucano planes and from three U.S. made A-37’s. The A-37’s “launch GPS (satellite Global Positioning System) guided bombs” and the “five Super Tucanos possess sufficient technological means to launch bombs at targets with a five meter margin of error,” according to the OAS report.

According to IPS sources, the United States may have played a greater role in the event which killed Reyes, a member of the FARC secretariat, along with 24 people, and led to a severance of relations between Quito and Bogotá.

The military source told IPS that the pilots who led the bombing in the Ecuadoran jungle province of Sucumbíos “were North Americans, possibly from DynCorp,” a provider of war materiel and mercenaries under contract to Plan Colombia.

The aircraft departed from the Tres Esquinas Airbase, in the southern Colombian department of Caquetá, the officer said. “The planes used to fumigate the coca crops or to attack guerrillas are piloted by North Americans in military service or contracted by DynCorp,” the officer stated.

Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s president, said on Saturday that his government would not permit “any foreign soldier, regular or irregular, to operate within sovereign [Ecuadoran] soil. Therefore in 2009 the foreign bases will be terminated.”

The Manta agreement was finalized on November 12, 2009, but the presence of U.S. military at this base and Ecuadoran port could be prolonged one year further, up to 2010.

“After an initial period of ten (10) years, either party may terminate this agreement by giving written notice to the other party. The termination will take affect one year following the date of notification,” according to the agreement.

On Monday, a commission from the Ecuadoran Constituent Assembly approved the chapter on territorial sovereignty in the future constitution. One of its articles states that “Ecuador is a peaceful country. Neither foreign military bases nor foreign installations with military purposes are permitted. National military bases may not be ceded to foreign security forces.”

If Ecuador wishes to put an end to its cession of Manta, it should terminate the agreement now, diplomatic sources told IPS.

“Many causes” could be argued: “the direct or indirect involvement (of North American forces at Manta) in the bombing, negligence for not having detected the FARC emcampment with its technology in the first place, and the attack which followed, and in case of having done so, for failing to inform the authorities in the partner country, which is Ecuador,” claimed the sources.

Another reason the Ecuadorans could use to terminate the agreement is the direct support given by the U.S. Southern Command, which depends on Manta, to the Colombian Armed Forces. The head of the Southern Command, Admiral James Stavridis, told a Senate Armed Forces Committee on March 6 that his country was monitoring the movement of Ecuadoran and Venezuelan troops toward the Colombian border. “With continued support from the United States, Colombia is about to win peace and make its successful advances against terrorism irreversible,” he said, and assured that guerrilla forces “have now been reduced to some 9,000 combatants, from the 17,500 that existed in 2002.” Stavridis visited Colombia in February.

In July of 2001, the retired colonel Fausto Cobo, the former director of the Ecuadoran army’s School of War, told IPS that “Manta, for Plan Colombia’s purposes,” is a “land-based aircraft carrier for the United States.” Until April of that year, when work began to expand Manta’s runway, 100 troops on average participated in up to three daily missions using the F3 spy plane. A U.S. diplomatic source told the British daily The Financial Times at the time that by October, 200 additional troops would be added with more to come in subsequent months. Once enlarged, larger and more sophisticated planes began reconnaissance missions.

Manta is one of the four “locations for advance operations,” together with Curaçao, Aruba and El Salvador, which form a network of North American anti-drug bases in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In August of 2006, the daily Expreso de Guayaquil reported that Colombian pilots were operating together with Ecuadoran pilots in flights from the Manta airbase. The commander of the AWACS (Advance Warning and Control System) squadron at Manta, Rich Boyd, assured the newspaper that a Colombian officer was piloting one of these aircraft. According to Boyd, when overflying Ecuador, the Colombian withdrew from the crew’s cabin so as not to access confidential information about the country. In turn, when overflying Colombian territory, the Ecuadoran would withdraw, for the same reasons.

According to Boyd, of the 27 AWACs planes which the United States possesses, three are at Manta. Each aircraft costs a billion dollars, almost twice the 2005 budget for the Ecuadoran air force. Boyd explained that this aircraft can monitor all radio and radar signals within a radius of 321.8 kilometers.

Several weeks before [Cobo’s] complaint, the then U.S. commander at the Manta base, Javier Delucca, insisted that Manta was key to Plan Colombia, giving the impression that Ecuador was involved in the anti-guerrilla activities in its neighboring country.

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