US Air Force and US Southern Command officials have known for at least a year that Ecuador wanted US counterdrug forces out of Forward Operating Location Manta. The US has been operating from there under a 1999 agreement that is slated to end next year. According to a July 29 Associated Press report, Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry formally notified the US Embassy of its decision not to renew the agreement. Although last year US officials mentioned Columbia or Peru as possible new locations, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack on July 30 would only say, “There’s still a need for the mission, so we’ll look at how we accomplish the mission, perhaps in other locations or by other means.” Earlier this year, Adm. James Stavridis, SOUTHCOM commander, told lawmakers that he felt other “friends and allies in the region” would provide support for the mission. McCormack noted, too, though that Ecuador “has promised continued close cooperation to confront the threat of drug smuggling, and we look forward to this continued cooperation.”
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.