Defence Minister Adam Shareef departed for Saudi Arabia last night to attend the closing ceremony of the ‘Northern Thunder’ military exercise, as a special envoy of President Abdulla Yameen.
The Northern Thunder operation is the first military drill conducted by the Saudi-led Islamic alliance formed to combat terrorist organisations. The Maldives is among some 34 mainly Muslim nations that joined the coalition in December.
The defence minister is accompanied by Chief of Defence Forces Major General Ahmed Shiyam on the four-day official visit.
According to the president’s office, the King of Saudi Arabia extended an invitation to observe the final part of the military drill, due to take place tomorrow at the King Khalid Military City.
Troops from some 20 countries are participating in the drill, which began last month.
Major Adnan Mohamed, spokesperson of the Maldives National Defence Force, told The Maldives Independent that Maldivian soldiers had participated in the exercise as observers.
The Saudi Press Agency reported last month that the military drill is the “largest and most important military manoeuvre in the history of the region”.
The exercise involves ground, air, and naval forces and demonstrates that Riyadh and its allies “stand united in confronting all challenges and preserving peace and stability in the region,” SPA reported.
A spokesperson for the Saudi military said on Monday that the exercises are also aimed at encouraging cooperation between participating troops.
Yameen has repeatedly slammed alleged interference in domestic affairs by Western powers amidst persisting criticism of the government’s human rights record following the imprisonment of former President Mohamed Nasheed and other opposition leaders in early 2015.
Saudi Arabia and Maldives also penned an agreement hailed as a “religious bridge” to maintain religious unity in late 2015. Islamic Minister Dr Ahmed Ziyad said at the time that the Saudis will help maintain the Maldives’ 100 percent Muslim status.