Posted on December 5th, 2020


USA was determined to capture Sri Lanka, politically and militarily in the Yahapalana period 2015-2019. US made it clear that it   needed the support of Sri Lanka for its control of Bay of Bengal.

US said in 2016 that given Sri Lanka’s strategic location, it is in America’s interest to increase military collaboration and cooperation with Sri Lanka. US intended to expand military leadership discussions, increase naval engagement and focus on defense institution building.

In February 2016 Admiral Harry.B. Harris Jr, head of the US Pacific Command told the US Senate Armed Services Committee, we have an opportunity to expand US interest in Sri Lanka. Given Sri Lanka strategic location it is in America’s interest to increase military collaboration and cooperation. US will expand military leadership discussions, increase naval engagement and focus on defense institution building.

Admiral Harris attended the Sri Lanka Navy’s Galle Dialogue 2016”.  He said USA and India had sent low ranking officers to the first Galle Dialogue. The People’s Republic of China had been represented by a high level delegation.  It was different now. ‘The Indian Ocean matters to USA, Sri Lanka matters to the US and I believe that US matters to Sri Lanka.’ Sri Lanka could help to complete the defense ring around the Indian Ocean.

At the Galle Dialogue 2017, Admiral Scott Swift, Pacific Fleet Commander said they look forward to the expansion of our military to military relations. 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. Sri Lanka was also within the range of an attack by ballistic missiles from North Korea, he said.

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.

The US Army’s Pacific Region Head Gen. Robert B.Brown made an official visit to the Island in July   2018. He met Sri Lanka‘s 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.

US Indo-Pacific Command Chief Admiral Philip Davidson told the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee, during a Congressional hearing, in January 2019 that Sri Lanka was   a significant strategic opportunity in the Indian Ocean. Despite the political upheaval in Sri Lanka, it is in America’s interests to continue military collaboration and cooperation with Sri Lankan Forces he said. Military-to-military relationship continues to strengthen between the two nations., said Davidson.

Thomas J.Vajda US Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State dealing with South and Central Asia   visited Colombo in February 2019 and said ‘we view Sri Lanka as a critical partner in the region.’  He decided to woo Sri Lanka with some flattery. As the United States increasingly turns its focus to more robust engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, it also looks to Sri Lanka as a valued friend and a partner to be a leader in that process, he said.

He spoke of Sri Lanka’s important role in the region. Your country has a hugely influential role to play in the region said Vadja. Located at the nexus of the Indo-Pacific, Sri Lanka has the opportunity to shape the region’s future concluded Vadja.

Robert. O. Blake, U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives from 2006 to 2009, visited Sri Lanka  in May 2019. He said that Sri Lanka is a very attractive partner  and  a military role is expected of Sri Lanka. Military links between USA and Sri Lanka are getting strengthened, he said. USA military and Sri Lanka military train together. There are joint exercises with all three services. 

US had obtained access to Sri Lanka  military  well before 2015. In 2002  the US Pacific Command team  was   invited to report on the Sri Lanka armed forces. The team prepared a top secret report which was also shown to the Sri Lanka authorities.

Access to the military  greatly increased Yahapalana rule. The first US Sri Lanka operational level bilateral defense dialogue took place in August 2016. The purpose was to develop a programme of bilateral training and exercises for the next three years.

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  March 2017. 

A contingent of 33 US Army Cadets, from US Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (AROTC) came to Sri Lanka in June 2017, on a familiarization tour. They were  given an initial training in weapon handling, field practices, physical training, by the Sri Lanka Army. The Cadets  visited the Sri Lanka Military Academy , Security Force Headquarters, Sri Lanka Light Infantry Headquarters, Regimental Headquarters of the Sri Lanka Engineers and the Army School of Artillery at Minneriya.

In 2018 US said, we launched the Bay of Bengal Initiative, as part of the maritime security theme 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.’

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.

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.

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.

U.S. Ambassador stated in January 2019 that “U.S.-Sri Lanka security cooperation includes a variety of joint exercises and training,  helping  among other things,  interoperability. This cooperation was designed by both countries to address our mutual security interests. Every joint exercise, every training in disaster response, is done at the invitation of our Sri Lankan hosts.

The United States and Sri Lanka agreed to expand military-to-military cooperation” said a  joint statement from the Foreign Ministry in  May 2019. The cooperation included demining, joint military engagements, Sri Lanka’s peacekeeping operations, human rights training for Sri Lankan officers, and visits by U.S. ships and military officials. The use of the term ‘joint engagements’ (rather than ‘joint exercises’) is significant as it suggests a combat role, commented Lasanda Kurukulasuriya.

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.

In  2019 the US embassy wanted to have a display of US Air Force aircraft in Colombo .They suggested conducting an air parade over the skies of the Galle Face Green using aircraft from the USS John Stennis, the Nimitz class nuclear powered carrier strike group which was  lying  off the shores of Sri Lanka. The US embassy thought  Sri Lankans would love this. The Foreign Ministry did not think they would. The idea was abandoned.

 US wanted to bring Sri Lanka under its militia control through three agreements, ACSA, SOFA and MCC. These have been  extensively discussed  elsewhere. Ranil Wickremesinghe   said in Parliament that SOFA was not an agreement but an exchange of letters signed between the US Embassy and our Foreign Ministry. These agreements generally establish the framework under which US military personnel operate in a foreign country. SOFA provides for rights and privileges of  US military while in foreign jurisdictions and how the laws of foreign jurisdictions apply to US personnel.    US has signed SOFAs with many countries. (Continued)

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