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The War Next Door

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National Geographic Ultimate Explorer host Lisa Ling investigates America’s long-running battle against Colombia’s illegal cocaine trade and the terrorist guerrillas who control it, discovering a troubled country struggling to emerge from nearly 40 years of lawlessness, brutality and political unrest. Saturday, Dec. 13, 8 p.m. ET

EVER SINCE THE terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States has devoted immense resources to combating terrorism around the world. While much attention has been focused on the American government’s efforts in the Middle East, there is another, less publicized, battle raging much closer to home — in Colombia, a country that has for years been considered one of the most dangerous and unstable places in the world. Since 2000, the United States has spent over 2 billion dollars to help Colombia fight its illegal cocaine trade and the terrorist guerrillas who control it — quietly making Colombia one of the top recipients of U.S. foreign aid in the world.

Colombia produces more cocaine than any other country in the world. Drug producers and armed insurgent rebels rule the coca-producing countryside, and, for many years, the government has been unable to halt their reign of lawlessness and brutality. In the wake of September 11, the rebels were identified as terrorists by the U.S. government. Now, as part of a plan to bring stability to Colombia and staunch the flow of cocaine into the United States, the U.S. has sent a contingent of government advisers and Special Forces troops on a mission to train and actively aid Colombians in the fight against the insurgents and the drug producers. Armed with American M-16s and Black Hawk helicopters, Colombian troops are fighting to set their country straight.

National Geographic Ultimate Explorer host Lisa Ling gets extraordinary access - including a rare one-on-one interview with Colombia’s President, Alvaro Uribe — as she journeys to Bogotá and beyond to investigate America’s increasing role in Colombia. Through interviews with people on both sides of the conflict, including U.S. embassy officials and military advisers, ordinary coca farmers and even a former assassin, who would only speak under the condition of anonymity at the grave of former drug lord Pablo Escobar, Ling discovers what this complicated situation means to the people on the front lines. Alongside an elite unit of the Colombian police, Ling ventures into the rebel-filled countryside on a mission to find and eliminate clandestine coca fields and cocaine labs. She sees signs of progress, but learns that Colombia may have far to go before it emerges from its turbulent past.

Ultimate Explorer examines this troubled country in an attempt to discover what is being done to end 40 years of turmoil.