THE POHOTTUWA GOVERNMENT OF SRI LANKA Part 2 C6
Posted on December 2nd, 2020

KAMALIKA PIERIS

USA  made its future military plans clear to those listening in Sri Lanka. At the Galle Dialogue 2017, Admiral Scott Swift,  Pacific Fleet Commander  said they look forward to the expansion of our military to military relations. It was necessary to build trust and cooperation to address multilateral challenges. With  [certain] realities creeping into the Indian Ocean, maintaining the Indian Ocean as a sea of tranquility seems increasingly problematic.

Addressing the 3rd Annual Colombo Air Symposium, October 2017, United States Air Force Major General James Eifet called for increased partnership and information sharing among nations in the Indo-Pacific region in the face of a nuclear threat from North Korea. It was not only USA, the Republic of Korea and Japan who were at risk from a possible missile attack but also  other countries in the region. Sri Lanka was also  within  the range of an attack by ballistic missiles from North Korea, he said.

IN 2017, President  Sirisena  thanked the US for resuming training of Sri Lankan armed force members, and urged the US to increase  technical training to naval officials. The Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka (INSSSL) briefed a delegation from the Young Alakai Warriors of the U.S. Army Pacific on Security Challenges of Sri Lanka in the Next Decade” in 2017. 

The US Army’s Pacific Region Head Gen. Robert B.Brown made an official visit to the Island in July   2018. He met Chief of Defence Staff. Gen. Brown’s visit was aimed at strengthening military cooperation and mutual friendship and thus deepening the US-South Asia understanding. Lengthy discussions took place on how the US Army can assist the Sri Lankan Army on disaster management activities and as to whether the Sri Lankan Peace Keeping Mission can get international training. Gen Brown also admired the professional competency of the Sri Lankan Army on demining.

A 17-member delegation of the United States Land Forces in the Pacific Command arrived in Sri Lanka for participation in ‘Land Forces Pacific Programme’ sessions In April 2018. There were preliminary discussions which addressed issues related to matters of interest to the US such as security cooperation. They also exchanged views on current developments in the region and other matters of mutual interest and concern.

Dr. Geoffrey F. Gresh, Department Head of International Security Studies – National Defense University in Washington, D.C and Associate Professor at the College of International Security Affairs (CISA), paid a courtesy call on Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Admiral Ravindra C. Wijegunaratne in June 2018.  He was accompanied by LTC Douglas Hess, Defence attache, US Embassy. A cordial discussion was held between the delegates on matters of mutual interest and cooperation. The two officials also discussed matters related to Indian Ocean Security dynamics and maritime security cooperation in the region.

Army Commander Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake attended the US Army’s ‘LANPAC Symposium and Exposition’, organized by the Institute of Land Warfare in Honolulu, Hawaii, in  June 2018. This annual world-class international forum of military intellectuals highlighted this year, the role, and contribution of land forces in the Indo-Pacific theatre. The theme was ‘The Future of Land Force Integration; Multilateral Approaches across the Indo-Pacific’.

Lieutenant General Senanayake also called on US Army Commanding General, Pacific Command, General Robert B. Brown and discussed several issues of concern as well as matters relating to continuing defence cooperation. Senanayake was also among the invitees to a special banquet, hosted by General Brown. Lieutenant General Senanayake’s retinue to Hawaii included Military Assistant to the Army Commander Colonel K.A.A. Udaya Kumara and Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) Warrant Officer I.W.M.S.P. Wijesinghe, perhaps for the first time in the Army history in a Commander’s entourage”.

United States will provide nearly $300 million in security assistance to improve security relationships across the Indo-Pacific region, including Sri Lanka, Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo announced at the ASEAN Regional Forum in August 2018. The security assistance funding will cover projects in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mongolia, Nepal, the Pacific Islands, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and others, in the areas of Maritime Security, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HA/DR), Peacekeeping Operations and Countering Transnational Crime..

As part of the maritime security theme, we launched the Bay of Bengal Initiative to help enhance the capacity of civilian and military maritime actors in this vital region, which is home to important sea lanes linking the Indian Ocean to East Asia. Under the Bay of Bengal Initiative,  the United States will ‘work with other partners in the Bay of Bengal, including Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to enhance the capacity of civilian and military maritime actors in the Indian Ocean Region to improve the target areas of detection, information-sharing, and response to emerging threats.’

In August 2018 the U.S. Department of State announced that it would provide approximately $39 million in Foreign Military Financing for Sri Lanka, pending Congressional approval.”We look forward to discussing with the Government of Sri Lanka how this contribution can support our Bay of Bengal initiative and Sri Lanka’s humanitarian assistance and disaster response priorities”, it said in a statement.

In May 2018, a delegation from the House Armed Services Committee of the U.S. Congress visited Sri Lanka. The House Armed Services Committee, a standing committee of the United States House of Representatives, is a powerful Committee, responsible for the supervision of armed forces and the Department of Defence. The delegation was led by its Chairman Mac Thornberry.   

The visit was to find out ways of strengthening defence cooperation between Sri Lanka and USA.   President Sirisena told the delegation that he greatly appreciated the defense training provided by the US, such as the joint military exercises carried out by US and Sri Lanka. Such programmes should continue for security purposes.

United States Air Force Airmen from across the Indo-Pacific met with their Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) counterparts at the SLAF Headquarters in Colombo IN 2018 for ‘Airman to Airman’ talks. The two groups focused on enhancing regional security, future training opportunities and exercises geared toward strengthening interoperability and professional military education opportunities for both SLAF and USAF airmen.

According to Maj. Gen. Eifert the engagement was very successful. At the two-day meeting both sides gained valuable information to share with key decision makers. The information would help both forces strengthen their bonds and bolster interoperability. “The SLAF did an outstanding job of communicating their needs and priorities which we are able to take back to HQ PACAF. It was a great opportunity to be here and improve the Sri Lanka, U.S. relationship,” Eifert said.

The US paid much attention to the navy.A Sri Lanka Marine Corps was  set up with US help  in 2017. The U.S. Coast Guard handed over a high endurance cutter, formerly the USCGC Sherman, to the Sri Lankan Navy in August 2018 at Honolulu. The cutter, a gift from the people of the United States, will be the largest ship in the Sri Lankan fleet. It measures 115 meters long and when fully staffed carries a crew of 167 The ship will increase Sri Lanka’s ability to patrol its Exclusive Economic Zone, providing additional security for ships from all nations that transit the busy sea lanes of the Indian Ocean.

For seven decades from the end of the World War II, the US Seventh fleet dominated the Pacific area . After Yahapalana victory, ships of the   7th Fleet,   visited Sri Lanka regularly.

 The first US navy ship to arrive was Blue Ridge’, in March 2016. When Blue Ridge came, the  US ambassador said that this would be the first of many to come. They would like to bring more of their Seventh Fleet to Sri Lanka.

The USNS ‘Fall River’,  a transport ship of  U.S. Pacific Fleet  arrived at the Port of Hambantota in March 2017  to engage in the first Pacific Partnership goodwill mission. Chief of US Pacific Fleet, Rear Admiral Gabrielson was present at the launch.

Admiral Gabrielson said Sri Lanka was selected as the first of four nations for the 2017 Pacific Partnership programme because Sri Lanka government had made the request. Hambantota area was selected out of about 48 areas proposed.  It takes a lot of effort to build trust and credibility. This exercise will make it easier for us to help each other when the unthinkable happens,” said Gabrielson.

100 US, Japanese and Australian marines  including 60 air borne US marines and navy personnel  participated.  SLNS Samudura (formerly of the US Coast Guard) joined the 10-day exercise.

The Pacific Partnership medical teams will join Sri Lankan doctors and nurses for training at the General Hospital and Nurses Training School in Hambantota, the Tissamaharama Base Hospital and other local clinics and hospitals. Free public medical and dental clinics in select cities will also be conducted by mission doctors and nurses, said the press release.

The activities would include free community health clinics, school and hospital renovations, learning exchanges for medical and disaster-relief responders, seminars to promote women’s roles in peace and security and public performances by the U.S. 7th Fleet Band. Local organizations, working together with U.S. Navy civil engineers,   will complete renovations of the Ambalantota Divisional Hospital, Wishaka Mahila Preschool, Sri Gunananda Preschool and multiple Maternity and Child Clinic Centres.

The U.S. 7th Fleet Band  held joint public concerts at the Galle Fort, Tangalle City Centre, Hambantota Beach Park , Bata Atha Agro Park, Matara Beach Park and several schools in the area. Television news showed the Pacific Partnership team attending a pinkama at Ambalantota  Sunadararamaya.

Thereafter,  US  guided missile destroyer USS Hopper arrived on   a goodwill visit in January 2017.   It  conducted training  for the Sri Lanka navy and also played cricket, baseball, volley ball and basketball with them.

USS ‘Comstock’ arrived  for a four day training workshop at Colombo harbour in March 2017. ‘USS Comstock’ is part of the 7th  fleet.  The training will be to enhance skill sets and strengthen relations between the two militaries. This is the third such military-to-military exchange between U.S. Sailors and Marines and their Sri Lankan counterparts in the past 12 months, the authorities observed, ‘and this will form the basis of further cooperation between our militaries.’

Approximately 325 U.S. sailors and marines joined 175 participants from the Sri Lankan Navy and Marine Corps as part of this exchange.  Training focused on  the movement and logistics support needed to successfully conduct humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

  US marines showed the Sri Lanka Marine Corps, procedures for life-saving skills, convoy operations, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief training and amphibious vehicle familiarization. Thereafter members of the U.S. Embassy, including U.S. Ambassador joined this group in donating toys and renovating children’s dormitories at the  School for the Deaf and Blind in Ratmalana.

Amphibious transport dock USS Anchorage (LPD 23), and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) arrived at Trincomalee Port in August 2018. Anchorage, is part of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), and is deployed to the 7th fleet area of operations to support regional stability, reassure partners and allies and maintain a presence postured to respond to any crisis from humanitarian assistance to contingency operations.

The US  was interested in  trying out the air logistics hub concept which utilizes Sri Lanka’s strategic location in the Indian Ocean to ensure the quick availability of relief supplies, equipment and other material when needed by the US and partner militaries and humanitarian organizations. “The Sri Lankan navy, host nation support team and the U.S. Embassy have provided tremendous assistance and cooperation in developing the first temporary air logistics hub concept in Sri Lanka, said Anchorage officials.

Anchorage aims not only to enhance security cooperation, but to build understanding of the HADR (humanitarian assistance, disaster relief) capability that contributes to disaster, along with sharing of best practices and enabling more efficient joint relief efforts in the event of a future disaster.

Additionally, sailors and marines will conduct training in visit, board, search and seizure, security force reaction techniques with the Sri Lankan Navy and Marines. There will also be damage control training. The US Navy damage control program is the best. The visit is also an opportunity for US Seventh Fleet to explore local logistics support services for visiting naval forces operating throughout the Indo-Pacific region.

During the visit, sailors and marines will have opportunities to meet with their counterparts during exercises with the Sri Lankan Navy and marines. Approximately 300 Sri Lankan naval academy midshipmen and 40 distinguished visitors, will tour Anchorage to learn about the ship’s amphibious capabilities.

The visit offers US sailors and marines the opportunity to explore the local area and meet their counterparts during exercises with the Sri Lankan Navy and Marines, the statement said. “In addition to the professional exchanges, Sailors and Marines will take part in sporting events, including baseball, soccer, basketball and volleyball.

 “Our Navy and Marine Corps team is deeply committed to continuing to strengthen our partnership with the Sri Lankan armed forces,” Sailors and Marines are focused on completing a successful mission and representing America in Sri Lanka. “These ship visits help demonstrate the value of the growing U.S.-Sri Lanka partnership,”

The USS Anchorage also joined the Sri Lankan naval ship Suranimila to conduct an exercise at sea.  The exercise allowed the ships to improve crews knowledge and strengthen a wide variety of seamanship skills critical to operating throughout a free and open Indo-Pacific region. During the exercise, multiple ships sailed information to practice communications and maneuvering procedures.  In addition to the Anchorage and Suranimila, two landing craft air cushions (LCACs), one AH-1Z Cobra helicopter, and one UH-1Y Huey helicopter participated. .”

“The Anchorage team and I had an incredible time in Trincomalee and we are proud to be serving alongside the Sri Lankan Navy,” said Captain Dennis Jacko, Commanding Officer of the USS Anchorage.  “Not only do we increase our proficiency in communications, but we continue to build on a strong and lasting partnership with the Sri Lankan Navy.” This was part of a growing U.S.-Sri Lanka naval partnership.

USA’s  Nimitz Carrier Strike Group  visited Colombo  in October 2017. These carriers are used for offensive operations. The Group included the USS Nimitz, the cruiser USS Princeton,  destroyers USS Howard, USS Shoup, USS Pinckney, and USS Kidd. USS Nimitz is a super carrier of the United States Navy, and the lead ship of her class. It is  one of the largest warships in the world. It is more than 23 stories high from the keel to the top of the mast and is approximately 333 meters long.  It can accommodate more than 5,000 personnel . This was the first aircraft carrier to visit since1985. It was parked 150  nautical miles  off Colombo. It was too large to enter Colombo port.

The visit was given a PR  look. I’m delighted that U.S. sailors will have the chance to visit Sri Lanka, meet with its wonderful people, and take part in public service activities at schools, hospitals, and rest homes that will improve the lives of Sri Lankans of all ages,”  said the U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka. While in port, sailors will also work with local non-profit organizations to support community service events at a local hospital, an orphanage, and other sites.

The local media   kept very quiet  about this visit. Foreign  newspapers did not.   Asia Times  had a paragraph on the event, starting with the headline ,‘US sends super carrier USS Nimitz to Sri Lanka in flag-showing visit aimed at China’ . This is what Asia Times said.

 ‘The US Navy, against a backdrop of quickening relations between Sri Lanka and China, is sending the USS Nimitz to make the first port call by a US aircraft carrier to the Indian Ocean nation in more than 30 years. The huge carrier will dock in Sri Lanka’s port of Colombo on Saturday for three days , in the first such visit since the mid-1980s. USS Nimitz and its escorting warships are currently one of three US carrier strike groups operating in the western Pacific. The show of force is a US response to continuing tensions with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program. The Nimitz’s flag-showing exercise in Sri Lanka also seems designed to counter a growing Chinese presence in the strategic nation’.

The U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS “Mercy” arrived in Trincomalee on April 25 to conduct the 2018 Pacific Partnership mission.” Pacific Partnership is the largest annual multilateral Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HA/DR) preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. It aims to enhance regional coordination in areas such as medical readiness and preparedness for disaster situations. Personnel from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Peru, and Japan took part in this year’s programme working side-by-side with Sri Lankan medical professionals.

This year’s Sri Lanka stop was similar to 2017’s mission. U.S. and partner nation service members  joined their Sri Lankan counterparts in civil engineering projects, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) readiness training, and public outreach throughout the local community. ” they conducted a range of  activities for schools, hospitals, community centres and locals in and around the Trincomalee district.

The USNS Mercy” contains 12 fully-equipped operating rooms, a 1,000 bed hospital facility, digital radiological services, a medical laboratory, a pharmacy, an optometry lab, a CAT-scan and two oxygen producing plants. The ship is equipped with a helicopter deck capable of landing large military helicopters.

US and Sri Lankan surgeons conducted the world’s first ever robot-assisted surgery aboard the USNS Mercy. The team successfully completed a cholecystectomy, or gall bladder removal, on a Sri Lankan citizen using a Da Vinci XI Robot Surgical System. This was the first time I have ever operated aboard a ship,” said Dr. Vyramuthu Varanitharan, a general surgeon at the Muttur Base Hospital.

During the ship’s stay, USN doctors along with Lankan doctors performed 24 varying surgeries onboard, out of which the robotic surgery performed onboard was the 1st in the world.  They also treated over 5,500 patients conducting medical clinics at various locations in and around Trincomalee in addition to over 500 veterinary surgeries and vaccinations.

There were also special musical performances presented by the US 7th Fleet Band partnering with the Sri Lanka Navy in a blend of US-Sri Lankan music genres.​ From medical clinics to free public concerts, our sailors will bring the best of America to local communities.

In august 2018 a joint humanitarian assistance mission called Pacific Angel, sponsored by the US Pacific Command (USPACOM) concluded at the Alagalla School in Vavuniya, The mission operated in Vavuniya, Anuradhapura and Sigiriya. The purpose was to provide humanitarian civic assistance and carry out civil-military operations in the Pacific region.

Medical treatment was provided by Pacific Air Forces doctors, including representatives from the Bangladesh Air Force, Maldivian Defence Force, Nepal Army, and Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) Medical/Dental officers and nurses. Medical teams treated 3,000 patients the services included primary health care, physical therapy, optometry and dentistry. Vavuniya Nursing School students and Red Cross officials participated. A forum highlighting topics such as modern engineering practices in disaster management and renovation was also held for SLAF civil engineers and technicians. School buildings were also renovated.

The U.S. Navy and Marines and Sri Lankan Navy and Marines launched the annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercise in Trincomalee in October 2107.  US navy    added Sri Lanka to the list of CARAT partners  for the first time in 2017,  as part of ‘our larger efforts to expand both bilateral and multilateral maritime security engagement across the Indo-Pacific region’. CARAT is entering its twenty-third year, and Sri Lanka is among the newest CARAT partner nations, demonstrating a shared commitment to maritime security in the Indian Ocean.’ 

CARAT Sri Lanka 2017 is part of a series of bilateral CARAT military exercises between the U.S. Navy and the armed forces of Bangladesh, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Thailand.  U.S. Navy  participation in CARAT Sri Lanka 2017 included Commander Task Group 75.5, Coastal Riverine Group 1, Underwater Construction Team 2 and U.S. Marines with Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team Pacific.

The week-long exercise  focused on maritime security skills and operational cohesiveness among participating forces.  CARAT training encompasses small boat operations, evidence collection, diving procedures, and anti-terrorism security.  It also builds relationships between military participants through community development projects, sports, and social events. 

There were several joint navy exercises.  I will list them chronologically. The world’s largest international maritime warfare exercise (Rim of the Pacific – RIMPAC) took place in the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California in June/August 2018.

.Sri Lanka took part in the biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) maritime exercise  2018  held in  Hawaii and Southern California in June 2018. This was  the first time Sri Lanka   was participating in this exercise. RIMPAC 2018 was an American led combined live field training exercise that included operational and tactical level training. The Sri Lanka team also had a week of Field Training Exercise and similar training engagements with Royal Australian Navy Marines and US Marines in Townville, Australia.

The many exercises conducted during RIMPAC included the training on the operations of an assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard. Participants gained firsthand knowledge on how rescue operation are conducted, how victims are brought to the ship and transferred to the ICU. A Sri Lanka media team joined other international media in documenting the exercise.

In July 2018 The Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) exercise between US Naval Special Warfare Forces personnel and Sri Lanka naval personnel from the 4th Fast Attack Flotilla (4FAF) and Special Boat Squadron (SBS) was inaugurated at the Special Boat Squadron Training School (SBSTS) in Trincomalee. The programme is held annually as part of a mutual understanding and agreements for the training and support requirements of both countries. The four – week course focused on developing professional skills and exchange of knowledge among naval personnel of US Naval Special Warfare Forces and Sri Lanka Navy.

The third KDU-CNA Track 1.5 Dialogue on Naval cooperation was held in July 2018 at the Faculty of Graduate Studies, General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University (KDU).The two-day dialogue was a collaborative initiative between KDU and the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA), USA. The KDU-CNA Track 1.5 Dialogue is a one-of-a-kind discussion that we organize at KDU, facilitating interaction between the navies of Sri Lanka and the United States, along with the participation of relevant academics.

 This year’s Track 1.5 Dialogue focused on how bilateral relations between Sri Lanka and the USA could be further improved in a variety of spheres and how the global security concerns are influencing the relations between the two countries.

 Track 1.5 diplomacy is an initiative to bring together government and non-governmental actors to discuss on a variety of topics that could improve the bilateral relations of countries. As such, this two-day deliberation witnessed the participation of analysts and academics along with naval officials from the navies of both participating countries for a discussion. Held under the Chatham House Rule, this year’s Dialogue included four main sessions, with the 5th and final session being a wrap-up session with the speakers providing forward-looking, implementable suggestions for Sri Lanka and the United States. ( continued)

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