While the US continues a long and controversial war in Iraq, American military presence - whether official or more discreet – in other, less publicised parts of the world closer to United States soil are also coming under scrutiny.
One example is in Ecuador, where the US has its only military "forward operating location" in South America.
But Ecuador's newly elected president, Rafael Correa, campaigned partially on a promise to not renew the lease for the American presence in Manta when it expires in 2009. Now all signs point to Correa following through on his campaign promises.
|Josh Rushing with Junglas after a mission|
A forward operating location is essentially a US military base, but officially called an "FOL" in military parlance. The American military presence in Ecuador is located inside the Ecuadorian Eloy Alfaro Air Force Base in the seaside city of Manta, Ecuador.
The Americans presence is small, with only a few hundred on active duty, mostly flying air narcotics missions along the Pacific.
Correa and his supporters say the American military presence in their country is a threat to their sovernity and goes to the heart of imperialism. Others say the American military presence in Ecuador is drawing Ecuador into neighbouring Colombia's civil conflict.
The Americans counter that their presence in Ecuador is helping to stop drug trafficking, citing statistics that last year alone they flew 850 air surveillance missions from Manta, intercepted 250 metric tons of narcotics at a street value of $5.2 billion.
One of Correa's top advisors told Al Jazeera his country does not have a drug problem and that if the Americans want to stop drugs they should work to stop drug users, most of who are in America.
Josh Rushing travelled to Ecuador to explore in more depth the debate surrounding the base at Manta and discovered that the majority of the Ecuadoreans in Manta, including the mayor, actually support the US military presence (critics claim the support stems from a savvy US public relations campaign to win over local support).
|Gabriel Elizondo boarding a chopper after a mission|
But Rushing also discovered that when American commanders in Ecuador are queried about their involvement in Colombia from Ecuador, they seem less forthcoming and the facts become cloudy, fuelling the Ecuadorian speculation that America is using their country for unscrupulous activity over Colombia.
In neighboring Colombia, unlike Ecuador, a civil conflict is raging and the US is deeply entrenched both financially and militarily. Last year the US government aide to Colombia was about $770 million – about 82% of which went directly into Colombia's military/police industrial complex.
Rushing traveled to Colombia to get a rare first hand look at the American military in action in Colombia, speaking with US special forces soldiers as they trained Colombian soldiers.
But to get a complete picture of the US presence in Colombia, Rushing accompanied the Colombian airborne commando unit called The Junglas as they searched out cocaine labs deep in the Colombian jungles. The Junglas are an elite specialised unit of the National Police, who were started and are funded today by the US government.
Critics say the Junglas represent everything that is wrong with American aide to Colombia, that the Americans use the Junglas as their own proxy forces in Colombia.
As Rushing discovered as he accompanied the Junglas on dangerous missions, the American military influence is everywhere with the Junglas. Regardless, Rushing also found out first hand the Junglas are an impressive force, able to find and destroy massive cocaine labs hidden deep in enemy territory.
How deep is the US military influence in Colombia, and is that influence helping win the war in drugs? In Ecuador, what is really going on at the air base the Americans call home?
Shadow War air from Saturday 15 September 2007 at the following times GMT:
Saturday 15th September (0430, 2230)
Sunday 16th September (0230, 1230)
Monday 17th September (0030, 0730)
Tuesday 18th September (0600, 1330)
Wednesday 19th September (1930)
Thursday 20th September (0530)
Friday 21st September (0300)
Saturday 22nd September (0630)
Watch Part One here:
Watch Part Two here: