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Ecuador to shut down U.S. anti-drug operation

  • Story Highlights
  • Deal that expires next year lets U.S. conduct anti-drug operations from Ecuador
  • Citizens "do not want foreign troops on our soil," Ecuadorian ambassador says
  • U.S. State Department spokesman: Move will leave "serious gap" in anti-drug effort
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From Mike Mount
CNN Pentagon Producer
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States is losing access to one of its three counternarcotics bases in Latin America, U.S. military officials said Wednesday.

The Ecuadorian government has told the Bush administration it will not renew a 10-year agreement letting U.S. troops conduct anti-drug operations from Manta Air Base, an Ecuadorian Air Force installation, military officials said.

The United States has used Manta Air Base since 1999 to run aerial surveillance of the eastern Pacific Ocean, looking for drug runners on the high seas as well as illicit flights.

Ecuador notified the U.S. Embassy on Tuesday that it will not renew the agreement after it expires in November 2009, the U.S. military officials said.

"The Ecuadorian people do not want foreign troops on our soil, and the government has to follow the mandate of its people," Luis Gallegos, Ecuador's ambassador to the United States, said Wednesday.

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"We have spent more than $150 million on troops to monitor the border with Colombia and will continue to support anti-narcotics operations in our country," Gallegos said.

The U.S. State Department's reaction to the announcement was mixed.

"The operations there are critical to our overall counternarcotics strategy, but Ecuador has promised continued close cooperation to confront the threat of drug smuggling," said Heidi Bronke, a spokeswoman for the department.

State Department chief spokesman Sean McCormack said the decision was Ecuador's to make.

"We note, however, that the closure will leave a serious gap in efforts by the United States and our partners to confront illegal drug trafficking throughout the region," he added.

Up to eight planes fly missions from Manta. About 250 U.S. military personnel and civilians work there.

Since the start of U.S. operations there, about 60 percent of the drug interdictions in the eastern Pacific have involved the planes based out of Manta, including the capture of more than 200 metric tons of drugs in 2007, according to U.S. military officials.

State Department officials said they could not talk about plans to move the mission to another country.

Manta is the only U.S. base in South America. The U.S. military operates two other counternarcotics bases in the region: a naval operation in El Salvador and an air operation in Curacao in the Caribbean.

All About EcuadorDrug TraffickingU.S. Department of State

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