Good afternoon. It is a great privilege to be here with you today, to celebrate, and I say celebrate the success of CARAT 2023. Or, in the words of my 10-year-old son who had a chance to board the ship yesterday, he said, “Mom, this is really cool.” So thank you to all of you here, the Sri Lanka Navy Commander, Vice Admiral Priyantha Perera, USN 7th Fleet Vice Commander, Rear Admiral Joaquin Martinez de Pinillos, USS Anchorage Commanding Officer, Navy Captain Daniel Keeler.
And congratulations to all the CARAT contributors – of course the Sri Lanka Navy and Air Force, the USS Anchorage officers and crew, Destroyer Squadron 7, the U.S. Marine Corps 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and everyone who made CARAT a success.
CARAT is the largest bilateral military engagement between the U.S. and Sri Lanka and one that we in the United States consider critical to the security of the Indian Ocean Region. I just returned from Honolulu to visit to INDOPACOM, where we talked about why upholding a free and open Indo pacific region is so important – for us, and our friends in the region including Sri Lanka- for economic resilience, for good governance, and for broad based prosperity.
Covid-19 put a pause on all these exercises for a couple of years, but I am thrilled that our respective militaries were able to come together and execute this again in 2023, because as our Admiral said, is the year that the U.S. and Sri Lanka are marking an amazing 75 years of friendship, partnership, and progress.
This year we’re commemorating three quarters of a century of bilateral relations between the U.S. and Sri Lanka, a relationship that runs broad and deep, built on our shared democratic values.
CARAT is but the first of many opportunities we will have this year to celebrate the longevity of that relationship and our continued commitment to each other in making the region safe, secure, and prosperous.
This exercise is one that develops military core competencies that help combat terrorism, human smuggling, and other activities that threaten our rules-based order in the Indian Ocean.
I was of course particularly excited to see the Sri Lanka Navy Ships GAJABAHU and VIJAYABAHU participate in the exercise. The VIJAYABAHU just commissioned in a beautiful ceremony last November. Both ships are U.S. donations and a testament of our commitment to Sri Lanka’s maritime security and maritime sovereignty.
But for those of us who had the opportunity to observe these exercises up close, we were so impressed to see how CARAT contributed to the deepening of ties in so many other ways.
For example, our militaries trained on water purification operations to help ensure that Sri Lankans will have access to clean drinking water in the event of a natural disaster.
We held an important Women Peace and Security event where service members from both countries had the opportunity to address the many ways that women are increasingly making an impact in the military domain. And I give my hats off to all the women here today. CARAT 2023 is in fact the very first time that female Sri Lankan officers were fully embarked on a foreign navy vessel. Amazing!
And I loved seeing our bands play together, honoring the cultural traditions and unique songs of both countries. The joint concert at Victoria Park alongside our families was a highlight of my week- and if you didn’t see the video, I got to show off my excellent tambourine playing skills onstage!
We were also able to broaden international cooperation with our great military partners, the Japanese Self Defense Force and the Maldives National Defense Force, both of whom participated in the exercise.
It is precisely engagements like CARAT that build the connective tissue between militaries and people and serve as the foundation on which true partnership is built. This is particularly true in difficult times.
I’m proud of the breadth and depth of the support of United States That we were able to provide to Sri Lanka during a challenging 2022, which of course included the ship VIJAYABAHU, but also 240 million dollars in humanitarian aid and development assistance that ensured children have food at school and that farmers have the fertilizer they need for successful crops.
For three-quarters of a century, we have nurtured the relationship between our countries. And it has just continued to be strengthened and grown.
As that growth continues through events like CARAT, we will see the emergence of a stronger and more resilient Sri Lanka that is increasingly capable of resisting malign influence from abroad, protecting its sovereignty, and developing strong institutions that will enable prosperity for all Sri Lankan people.
To my colleagues and friends in the Sri Lankan government, the Sri Lanka military and the U.S. military, and to everyone who made this exercise yet another important building block in our long-standing relationship, thank you once again for all of your hard work and commitment. Here’s to the next 75 years of our partnership, prosperity, and progress. Thank you.