More inconvenient facts about Manta

The questions about what the U.S. was up to at Manta on March 1 are not going away.

Alvaro Uribe and the Manta Airbase

The United States’ Andean-Amazonian Strategy

Ana Esther Ceceña – APM – Translation: Machetera

Did Colombia’s recent attack on Ecuadoran territory come from this U.S. outpost? Has Desert Storm arrived in the South American jungle? In 1999, the year in which the United States had to abandon Panama and its position with the Canal, one of the world’s most strategic points, it sought a way to compensate for its withdrawal with an advance [elsewhere]. Instead of losing its position with the Canal, it expanded its scope and range of action from three new positions which formed a triangle around Panama, with a point in each one of the surrounding regions: Central America, South America and the Caribbean. Through simultaneous negotiations it managed to locate new facilities, with ten year agreements, in El Salvador’s international airport at Comalapa; in Aruba and Curaçao, in the airports at Reina Beatriz and Hato Rey, respectively; and in Ecuador, at Eloy Alfaro airport and in the coastal city of Manta. The bases installed at these three points correspond to a relatively new concept which emerged from an extensive internal review of the United States joint commands, which took place as part of the “revolution in military affairs” at the end of the ’90’s.

The idea of large military installations in conflict zones has been replaced by smaller, cheaper, easier to manage installations, with sufficient range so as to avoid being under the spotlight, with the associated risks, but still permit agile actions. These are called “Foreign Operating Locations” (FOL) although in a slight mitigating effort have been renamed “Cooperative Security Locations (CSLs). These kinds of bases are relatively misleading because in normal times they have very few personnel (Manta, for example, reports 13 people) since their function is focused on monitoring and detection. Nevertheless, bases such as Manta are capable of housing up to 485 people, including military and intelligence personnel and civilian employees, and receiving small planes such as the F16, big planes such as the AWACs and even, if necessary, huge planes such as the C5, for large scale troop and equipment transport.

The monitoring done from the base is continuous and has a realtime communication system with the Space Warfare Center located in Colorado Springs, in the United States, which receives similar communications from all its positions, fixed and mobile, throughout the world. In this way, each one of these communication installations remains informed about the activities of ships, troops and bases throughout the entire system. In other words, these kinds of bases are designed from a “just in time” point of view. They are meant to conserve resources and lower costs but still maintain the versatility to confront any contingency or threat with a rapid and efficient response that turns each action into a “surgical strike.”

In Donald Rumsfeld’s words: “In the next century our forces should be agile, lethal, rapidly deployable and with minimal requirements for logistic support. We should be able to project our power over great distances in a matter of days or weeks, not months.” (September 23, 2004). To achieve this, in addition to a proliferation of FOL type installations in areas considered unstable, ungovernable, critical or failing, among which can be found a good portion of Latin American and African countries, “we are improving communications and intelligence gathering. This includes, for example, the development of Space Based Radar (SBR) to monitor fixed as well as mobile targets deep behind enemy lines or in prohibited areas, in any kind of weather. We are also working on the Transformational Communications Satellite (TSAT) to provide our joint troops an unprecedented capacity for communications. To give an idea of the speed and situational awareness the TSAT can offer, consider that the transmission of an image from a Global Hawk Military II presently takes around 12 minutes. With the TSAT it will take less than a second.” (Rumsfeld, September 23, 2004).

According to the Base Structure Report, Fiscal Year 2007 Baseline, where the Defense Department reports on U.S. military installations throughout the world in 2007, the positions in Aruba are valued at $1.6 million, those in Curaçao at $46.1 million, while Manta ascends to $182 million, a large portion of which were invested in the transformation of the airport to monitoring activities, intervention and rapid response necessary for the activities foreseen in the region. The area occuped by Manta is 412 square kilometers but it is not unusual to see AWACS parked in the civilian airport alongside it. In this same report the Defense Department takes credit for the existence of six small installations in Colombia and one in Peru, meaning those that occupy less than 40 square kilometers or that have a value of less than $10 million.

This confirms the hypothesis that Manta is the heart and brain for operations coordinated throughout the entire base system in the region. If that is so, and if Manta’s assignment is the continuous vigilance of any kind of ship or movement related to drug trafficking, illegal migration, terrorism and whatever else is considered a threat to the national security of the United States, what did it do or not do the night of the attack on the FARC camp in Sucumbios, Ecuador? If, as the Ecuadoran government has stated, the bombs dropped on its soil could not have been launched from planes such as those used by the Colombians (Tucanos), what relationship exists between the U.S. planes that can launch such bombs, and the base at Manta? Has Desert Storm moved to the jungle?

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