The armies of India and Sri Lanka will hold the sixth iteration of their annual Mitra Shakti military exercise starting on March 26, the Indian Army announced last week. The exercise is among the major scheduled military-to-military activities between the two sides and will focus on tactical interoperability and counterterrorism.
The Mitra Shakti exercise is set to run from March 26 to April 8 in Sri Lanka. The Indian Army will send the 1st Battalion of the Bihar Regiment while the Sri Lanka side will send its 1st Gamunu Watch Battalion.
“Exercise MITRA SHAKTI is conducted annually as part of military diplomacy and interaction between armies of India & Sri Lanka,” a statement from Indian Army Public Relations Officer Lt. Col. Mohit Vaishnava noted.
“The aim of the exercise is to build and promote close relations between armies of both the countries and to enhance ability of joint exercise commander to take military contingents of both nations under command,” Vaishnava’s statement noted.
“The exercise will involve tactical level operations in an international Counter Insurgency and Counter Terrorist environment under United Nations mandate,” it added.
Last year’s Mitra Shakti bilateral joint exercise took place in India, at the Aundh military station in Pune, Maharashtra. That exercise focused on counterterrorism operations as well.
India and Sri Lanka have collaborated on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations over the years. The two sides have a long history of military cooperation.
In 1987, India intervened in Sri Lanka’s then-ongoing civil war to assisted Sri Lankan forces in repelling the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a Tamil separatist movement in the country’s north.
Since the inauguration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in May 2014, Sri Lanka has been a major focus of India’s neighborhood diplomacy. New Delhi has continued to conduct major military exercises with Colombo and supported capacity-building in Sri Lanka over the years.
New Delhi’s diplomatic approach to Sri Lanka has been influenced in recent years by concerns about growing Chinese influence in the country.
In March 2015, Modi visited Sri Lanka for a state visit, shortly after Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena’s January 2015 election victory.
During that visit, Modi “conveyed India`s commitment to further strengthening our partnership in advancing peace and prosperity in our region, including our common maritime neighborhood.”
Under the former Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, Colombo converged with Beijing. After an initial period of bilateral recalibration under Sirisena, ties between Colombo and New Delhi once again suffered turbulence during a constitutional crisis in Sri Lanka in late-2018.