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Evidence points to secret Indian navy base on Mauritian island

Analysis of data suggests construction of airstrip and jetty for military use as India expands influence towards Africa.

Satellite imagery, financial data and on-the-ground evidence obtained by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit point to India building a naval facility on the remote Mauritian island of Agaléga.

Military experts who have analysed Al Jazeera’s evidence say an airstrip under construction will almost certainly be used for maritime patrol missions by India’s navy.

Rumours and media reports about the military base first surfaced in 2018 but both Mauritius and India have denied that the construction project is for military purposes and say the infrastructure is only to benefit the islanders.

Satellite pictures reveal how Agaléga, located about 1,100km (684 miles) from Mauritius’ main island and home to about 300 people, is seeing the construction of two large jetties and a runway that is more than 3km (1.84 miles) long.

“It’s an intelligence facility for India to stage air and naval presence in order to increase surveillance in the wider southwest Indian Ocean and Mozambique channel,” Abhishek Mishra, associate fellow at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) think-tank in New Delhi told Al Jazeera.

“Based on my personal information, my conversations with all these people in my circle, the base will be used for the berthing of our ships and the runway will be mostly used for our P-8I aircraft,” Mishra said, referring to India’s P-8I maritime patrol aircraft that can be used for surveillance, anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare.

Aircraft that want to land on Agaléga currently have to use a short 800-metre landing strip, only long enough for the Mauritian coastguard’s propeller planes.

The new airstrip, still under construction, will be as long as runways used by the biggest aeroplanes in the world at large international airports.

Samuel Bashfield, a researcher at the National Security College at the Australian National University, told Al Jazeera the Indian Ocean is increasingly becoming a hotspot for nations to expand their geopolitical influence.

“The southwest Indian Ocean is an area where it’s important for India to have areas where their aircraft can support their ships, and also where it has areas it can use as launching pads for operations,” he said.

“I think as an addition to India’s other points that it can operate from, it’s incredibly important,” Bashfield, whose research focuses on strategic and geopolitical issues in the Indian Ocean, said.

“I think it’s an absolutely perfect spot for a military base.”

Using shipping data, Al Jazeera tracked about a dozen bulk carriers that made the trip from Indian ports to Agaléga to deliver construction materials.

The pictures and data show how, over the last two years, the island has become home to hundreds of construction workers living in a semi-permanent camp on the northern tip of the 12km (7.5-mile) long island.

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