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Abid Khan asked: What are the possible consequences of the development of a new US base in Socotra Island on the Bab al-Mandeb region? What effect would the escalated US/Allied presence in the Gulf have over Saudi Arabia and the Red Sea area?

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  • Sarabjeet Singh Parmar replies:The Island of Socotra lies in an extremely strategic position, 80 kilometres due east of the Horn of Africa and about 380 kilometres south of Yemen. Measuring 120 by 40 kilometres, the island occupies a vantage position in the North Western Arabian Sea and commands a dominating position over the waters of the Red sea and Gulf of Aden as well as the waters south of the exit point from the Strait of Hormuz into the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Therefore, from a military view point, the Socotra archipelago is of significant strategic importance. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union had a military presence in Socotra, which at the time was part of South Yemen.

    As per reports, the US since 2010, has been secretly building infrastructure on Socotra that would support air, sea and land operations. In addition, the US is also reported to be using the Omani island of Masirah. This 70 kilometre long island, about 1000 kilometres north of Socotra, lies just south of the Hormuz Strait entry point to the Gulf of Oman and equals Socotra in strategic importance. These islands would give the US the flexibility to deploy its assets over a wider area and specifically out of the Gulf region where it faces Iran, yet remaining within striking range.

    As per reports, the region is witnessing the heaviest buildup of US forces since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. The implications are staggering. The steady and heavy militarisation of this region can only possibly point to the growing US preparation to take on Iran in case of a conflict. This is an aspect that has implications for the resident nations in the region. US bases and presence on these islands would not only aid the US in strengthening its presence in the IOR but also reduce the load on Diego Garcia (Diego Garcia is around 3000 kilometres south and in size is comparatively much smaller) in terms of aiding more strategic poise and in the ability to support more assets.

    However, the veracity of the reports is suspect as such a development would have caught the attention of the world as it cannot remain hidden for long.