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Is the United States about to lose control of its secretive Diego Garcia military base?

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Muslim women challenge burkini ban in French pool. Tourists flock to explore eerie grounds of Chernobyl. Two Eurofighter jets crashed in Germany, killing one pilot. Iran threatens to shoot down more US aircraft. The plastic river flowing into the sea. The troops here can dine on burgers at Jake's Place , enjoy a nine-hole golf course, go bowling or sink a cold beer at one of several bars. The local command has nicknamed the base the "Footprint of Freedom.

But while cars here drive on the right side of the road, this is not American soil: It is, in fact, a remote remnant of the British Empire. That is because in , in the middle of the Cold War, the United States signed a controversial, secret agreement with the British government to lease one of the 60 or so Indian Ocean atolls that make up the Chagos Islands to construct a military base. That deal was secret because the UK was in the process of decolonizing Mauritius, of which the Chagos archipelago was a dependency.

The Chagos Islands never got its independence day. Instead, it was cleaved from Mauritius and renamed the British Indian Ocean Territory, a move that the United Nations' highest court in ruled was illegal under international law. Britain has now been instructed to properly finish the process of decolonization, and return the Chagos Islands, located half way between Africa and Indonesia, to Mauritius. The ruling, though non-binding, potentially creates a huge problem for the United States. Today, Diego Garcia is one of America's most important -- and secretive -- overseas assets.

Diego Garcia has helped to launch two invasions of Iraq, served as a vital landing spot for bombers that fly missions across Asia, including over the South China Sea, and has been linked to US rendition efforts. Many in Britain, including Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the country's opposition Labour Party, are now calling for the UK to return the islands to Mauritius. Should that happen experts believe the ownership of Diego Garcia could be up for negotiation -- a move that would make Mauritius a much more important country geopolitically.

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A UK Foreign Office spokesperson said that the government would look at the judgment "carefully. Photos: Diego Garcia in These are his images of Diego Garcia. Hide Caption. From Singapore to Djibouti and Bahrain to Brazil, today the US operates about military bases and logistical facilities outside its sovereign territory -- more than any other nation. Most of America's bases were acquired during the era of decolonization, after World War II, when traditional colonial powers such as Britain and France were shedding colonies around the world, especially in Asia. As Soviet influence increased during the Cold War era, the shrinking global footprint of its European allies made the United States and its allied partners worried that the West was "losing control of the world," explains David Vine, author of "Island of Shame," which documents the fate of the Chagos archipelago.


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Many governments, such as South Korea, Japan and Bahrain, have sought long-term defense agreements with the US, viewing an additional military presence as a necessary means of protection. In , America approached Britain about leasing a tiny dot in the India Ocean.

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A chopper picks up mail bag to be taken to Diego Garcia in September, In , Britain and America signed an agreement without congressional or parliamentary oversight, which gave the US the right to build a military base on Diego Garcia, until its need for military facilities had disappeared -- wording that was perhaps deliberately vague. There was just one problem. The 3, Chagosians who lived on the islands.

To which British diplomat Dennis Greenhill replied, in a cable brutally maligning the population of the Chagos Islands: "Unfortunately, along with birds go some few Tarzans Had Greenhill illuminated himself he would have learned that the first inhabitants of the Chagos Islands were slaves shipped from Madagascar and Mozambique to work on coconut plantations by the French in the 18th century.

The Chagos Islands looks like paradise but has a dark history. The Chagosians developed a pleasant lifestyle distinct to that on Mauritius, where back-breaking work was endured on sugar plantations, says Vine. They developed their own version of the Creole language, schools for their children, tended private gardens and led a peaceful way of life. In , the US and UK began tearing that life apart, exiling all the inhabitants from their land. Medical and food supplies to the island were gradually restricted, until eventually, in , all those remaining were told they had to leave "overnight," Prosper says.

According to witness testimony provided to CNN by former residents, the Chagosians were herded into the hold of two cargo ships, then dumped on the quayside in Mauritius or the Seychelles. The pets they left behind were rounded up by soldiers and gassed. Their houses left to the jungle. Going to Mauritius abruptly made them depressed, many became alcoholics. Diego Garcia, the largest island in the Chagos archipelago and site of a major United States military base, located in the middle of the Indian Ocean, was leased from Britain in Designer Dirty Laundry.

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