Posted on December 5th, 2020


On February 25, 2019, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) rejected the United Kingdom’s claim of sovereignty over the Indian Ocean, Chagos Islands, and determined that Britain must return the islands to its former colony, Mauritius, ‘as rapidly as possible’. The Chagos islands house the Diego Garcia military base of the USA. It is a huge US military base. It is illegal under international law said an analyst. It is kept secret. Not many have heard of the Chagos Islands, because the islands are not shown on maps.

Diego Garcia base is vital to the US military. It serves as a landing spot for bombers that fly missions across Asia, including the South China Sea. Diego Garcia was used to guide tactical aircraft supporting US military missions in Afghanistan and Iraq and featured remote satellite tracking stations. It also had an Air Force Space Command as well as   Pacific Air Force support and logistics teams.

With the decision of the ICJ regarding leaving Chagos, US now needs to find another base to go to.  The nearest base is Trincomalee. US had happily planned to set up a US base there in 2015   with the assistance of the Yahapalana puppet government. US diplomat Atul Keshap said in 2015, before his arrival in Sri Lanka as US ambassador, that he planned to setup a US base in Trincomalee harbor.

US is working towards establishing a base in Trincomalee for its Seventh fleet, reported Island in September 2015.   It was making Sri Lanka’s military vacate strategically important locations.

Plans are afoot to set up a US base in Trincomalee harbor, said Tissa Vitarana in February 2016. Yahapalana government was planning to hand over Trincomalee port to US and   very soon US 7th fleet will be in our waters, he warned. A bilateral agreement in this regard has been signed secretly between Sri Lanka and America. US has not hidden its interest in getting Trincomalee and hopes to partner with Sri Lanka to encircle China, agreed others.

This topic entered popular discussion. The general opinion in Sri Lanka and abroad was that USA wanted to turn Trincomalee into a US base, said the media.  Firstly, USA would like to have Trincomalee as a counterweight to China-controlled Hambantota, which sits on the edge of one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, said analysts.  “It will be about balance not containment of China,” they added.

Secondly, Trincomalee would be a useful, highly strategic base for the US navy. Trincomalee is one of the world’s largest natural deep water harbors. Entrance to the harbor is four miles wide and five across. Inner harbor which lies in the north covers about 12 sq miles and is securely enclosed by outcrops huge rocks and small islets. It has great depth.

 In the time of sailing ships the harbour could ensure the safety of a whole fleet during the monsoon from October to March. A fleet so protected was in a position to dominate the Bay of Bengal and the eastern sea. Therefore any power that controlled this harbour had a great advantage from a naval and strategic perspective. Trincomalee is ideal for nuclear submarines.  They can dive low in the inner harbour and effectively avoid radar and sonar detection.

However, there was   virulent resistance in Sri Lanka to the idea of an American base on Sri Lanka soil. This resistance, despite repeated government denials, showed just how strongly citizens feel a foreign military base would hurt national interests, said observers. A foreign base raises questions of sovereignty and foreign interference, they observed. 

By 2019, the Yahapalana government and its handler, the US, had become very unpopular. US decided to back down. US denied that it intends to establish a military base in Sri Lanka. United States has no intention of building a base here. Instead, we are building relationships that will help keep both our countries safe, US embassy said. A base has never been a part of the relationship nor have there ever been discussions aimed at establishing one, the embassy concluded.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe   also   denied that US plans to set up a military base in Sri Lanka. Ranil Wickremesinghe said that US navy is “not a fleet of fishing trawlers and they do not need any bases in Sri Lanka”.  David Brewster, a senior research fellow at the Australian National University researching Indian Ocean security, said that   United States has no need for a military presence in Sri Lanka.

Nowadays the US strategy is not to establish full-blown, costly military bases overseas but to use the ‘Lily-pad’ concept, whereby it increases its force deployment globally, but with a smaller footprint. This affords a more nimble capability to move equipment and personnel where they are required in a contingency, observed Lasanda Kurukulasuriya.

This confirms that what the US wants is a hub. The U.S. navy has its eye on Sri Lanka’s northeastern port of Trincomalee to serve as a logistics hub, said analysts. The US Navy announced in December, 2018, the setting up of what it called logistic hub in Sri Lanka to secure support, supplies and services at sea, reported the media. The purpose of this hub would be to secure “mission-critical supplies and services to U.S. Navy ships transiting through and operating in the Indian Ocean.”

The US Navy first operated this air logistic hub in late August 2018. Under the ACSA, the US Navy transferred cargo between planes at the Bandaranaike International Airport. The cargo was meant for the strike group at Trincomalee. Experts think the move was a test run to ascertain timing and other procedures for re-supply using the Colombo airport as a launching pad during an exigency. ( Continued)

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