Army advisers make first mission to the Maldives, a strategic area of the Indian Ocean

Army advisers make first mission to the Maldives, a strategic area of the Indian Ocean


A small cohort of Army advisers traded their dreary winter at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state for a sun-soaked visit to the Maldives this February and March.

The Americans were sent to the Maldives to train its growing security forces, the first of what is expected to be regular rotations to an archipelago that’s of great interest to India and the United States on one side, and China on the other.

Twelve-soldier teams from 5th Security Force Assistance Brigade are fanning out across the Indo-Pacific this year. Unit officials want to keep one-third of their roughly 820 soldiers forward deployed at all times. Their goal: Mentor foreign militaries in a region where U.S. and Chinese interests are often at odds.

Officials at the 5th SFAB have been tight-lipped about the countries where their advisers are working, only acknowledging a few, like Indonesia, thus far. Army advising missions overlap with those of U.S. embassies and foreign diplomats, necessitating discretion until all parties are ready to announce, officials have said.

The Maldives are prepared to talk, though. The small nation’s defense chief, Maj. Gen. Abdulla Shamaal, tweeted about the first 5th SFAB rotation March 25, saying that year-long discussions centered around increasing training engagements “have become a reality.”

Capt. Matthew Orders, a 5th SFAB team leader, told Army Times by telephone Wednesday that his advisers have trained with a wide range of troops across the Maldives National Defense Force, including the presidential guard, the Maldives College of Defense and Security Studies, the marines, the coast guard and an integrated headquarters.

But the Maldives have a small military, numbering just 2,500 personnel across all services, according to CIA figures.

“They’re continuing to expand their capabilities, continuing to grow because of the political turbulence in the country over the past couple of decades. They have a relatively new structure to their military with new leadership, with new visions,” Orders said.

The 5th SFAB Commander, Brig. Gen. Curt Taylor, and 1-2 Stryker Brigade commander, Col. Jared Bordwell, run a key leader engagement Nov. 14, 2020, in the simulated nation of South Torbia. (Army)

“The coast guard, you know, the things they do are kind of out of the wheelhouse of the 5th SFAB, to be honest,” Orders added. “But I think the marine c orps is probably where we can help focus a lot of our efforts, because they are the ones that will help respond to any crises that pop up in the country. They’re more so focused on domestic security and domestic-related issues.”

The United States and the Maldives signed a new defense cooperation agreement Sept. 10 in Philadelphia, another hint at the importance placed on the Maldives’ thousands of islands that stretch across critical shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean.

Advisers from 5th SFAB, Staff Sgt. Evan Underwood and Staff Sgt. Jesse Enebrad, teach Maldivian forces how to evaluate and treat a casualty March 3. (Army)
Advisers from 5th SFAB, Staff Sgt. Evan Underwood and Staff Sgt. Jesse Enebrad, teach Maldivian forces how to evaluate and treat a casualty March 3. (Army)

For Orders’ team, partnering with the Maldivians has meant instructing them on small-unit tactics, combat medical care and marksmanship.

The Americans also introduced the Maldivians to the RQ-20 Puma, a hand-launched drone that could give the Maldivian forces an ability to launch search and rescue missions at night, Orders noted.

“We [worked with] quite a large variety of MNDF service members from across different branches and special sections,” Orders said. “The next time we interact with MNDF, we’re going to try to target that a little bit more with ‘Train the Trainer’ programs in specific locations.”

A 5th SFAB team leader, Capt. Kris Candelaria, stands alongside 1st Lt. Rendi Hardika Putera from the Indonesian army as they prepare for an air movement at Fort Polk, Louisiana, Oct. 6. (Army)

Orders said this first rotation gave the 5th SFAB a better idea of where exactly they should send advisers when they come back this summer.

The next team of advisers will likely be split between helping Maldivian forces run noncommissioned officer academies and sending personnel to a new combat medic course started in the capital of Malé. The SFAB team leader and an assistant team leader will then rotate around the country, meeting with different area commands.

Orders’ team has been in the Maldives since Feb. 11 and closed out the training engagement at the end of March. Four to six weeks is the sweet spot, he said.

“It’s really hard for them to generate enough combat power to support our training,” he added. “That’s just my onion based on what I saw. … We’ll see once we enter negotiations for the next rotation how long we can stay here. But I think four to six weeks is about right.”





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Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.

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