Maldives forces ready for any crisis, strengthen partnership with U.S. forces
During the first quarter of 2020, while the world was grappling with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) continued its rigorous training on remote islands in the Indian Ocean.
In March 2020, MNDF Marines and Special Forces conducted a training exercise with U.S. Special Forces to secure an island in case of attack, a difficult scenario given the Maldives consists of 26 atolls and over 1,100 dispersed islands.
In the culminating scenario, MNDF and U.S. Special Forces worked together to clear an isolated island used by a radicalized community exporting terrorists, and to seize a fishing vessel controlled by local pirates smuggling weapons into the country.
The simulation, loosely based on historic events in the Maldives, was part of the 30-day Balance Metal exercise to train MNDF Marines and Special Forces and U.S. Special Forces and highlighted interoperability between the forces. (Pictured: Maldives National Defence Force Special Forces clear a room for visit, board, search and seizure training to develop shared techniques, tactics and procedures with U.S. Special Forces during the 2020 Balance Metal exercise.)
The Maldives and U.S. recognize the importance of counterterrorism operations and of maintaining the freedom of international waterways, particularly the commercial shipping routes between India and the Maldives.
“Our home, the Indian Ocean, has over the past two decades come to the forefront of global geopolitics and rapidly taken its place as the heart of maritime trade. The peace and security of the Indian Ocean is inextricably linked to the peace and security of the world,” Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih said during his statement to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2019.
There are two primary shipping routes to transport products, particularly oil, from the Middle East to Asia. Both routes pass Maldivian territorial waters, focusing attention on the island nation.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has increasingly solicited the Maldives to join its One Belt, One Road scheme with infrastructure deals such as the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge in Male and expansion of the Velana International Airport.
The Maldives and its closest trading partner, India, share the dividing passage line from the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea, securing a key military and economic route for some of the largest economies in the world. Factoring India and the PRC alone, this waterway provides shipping routes to about 2.8 billion people and supports a combined gross domestic product of U.S. $15.98 trillion.
In addition to securing key commercial lanes, the Maldives has been vigilant in combating piracy within its waters and countering terrorism.
Exercise Balance Metal has been held annually over the past decade to help prepare for security crises. The program provides the Maldives and U.S. with a platform to share tactics and techniques and build collective interoperability.
“Our allies and partners provide complementary capabilities and forces along with unique perspectives, regional relationships, and information that improve our understanding of the environment and expand our options,” according to the U.S. 2018 National Defense Strategy.
U.S. Special Forces are the partner of choice across the Indo-Pacific region for world-class crisis response and counterterrorism training in support of free trade between democratic nations that adhere to the international rule of law.
The Maldives have maintained this enduring exchange to support crisis response and effective counterterrorism through joint training within the Indo-Pacific region.
As President Solih stated in his February 2020 address to the Maldives’ legislative body, “The spread of religious extremism and the expression of values which contravene religion are considered threats to our national security.”
The partnership between the Maldives and U.S. is rooted in the nations’ mutual interest in bolstering national security against terrorism. In a February 2019 interview with Indian website Strategic News International, the Maldivian Chief of Defence Maj. Gen. Abdulla Shamaal expressed the military’s focus to bolster its Special Forces and Marine Corps capabilities to fight terrorism.
While the Maldives has had few terrorist attacks in the past decade, officials have seen a persistent threat of radicalized communities that have supported insurgents within the Middle East. On February 4, 2020, Islamic State sympathizers stabbed three tourists in the greater Male area and promised continued violence.
The MNDF Special Forces and police have conducted several successful combined operations to identify radicalized communities and counter violent extremism. Through Balance Metal, the MNDF and U.S. Special Forces have fostered additional tactics and experience in the fight against violent extremism. During the March 2020 exercise, they trained in advanced shooting, tactical casualty combat care, close-quarter battle and maritime operations.
In addition to sharing tactical training and planning expertise, U.S. Special Forces also delivered additional medical equipment to the MNDF Special Forces and Marines. The equipment included basic trauma care items, such as chest seals and tourniquets, and more advanced equipment, such as an oxygen concentrator for patients in critical need.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster, and Civic Aid program funded the equipment to support host nation medical training and disaster preparation.