One of the world’s largest and longest-running international military exercises officially began this week in Thailand.
The 38th annual Cobra Gold exercise, scheduled to run through Feb. 22, is co-sponsored by the Royal Thai and U.S armed forces. They are joined by another 27 nations, including Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea and Singapore. China and India participate in civic-action parts of the exercise.
“The benefits of Cobra Gold have been clearly demonstrated through the past years,” said Peter Haymond, the interim chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, during the opening ceremony at Akatotsarot Camp in the northern province of Phitsanulok, Thailand. “Our nations represented here today have fought side by side in battlefields and have worked together in humanitarian and natural disasters.”
Its organizers claim Cobra Gold is the largest annual Asia-Pacific military exercise. Its stated goals are to improve the capabilities of participating nations to plan operations and conduct them together, build relationships and enhance maritime security and response to natural disasters.
Haymond was joined by Gen. Pornpipat Benyasri, the Thai chief of defense forces, and Lt. Gen. Gary Volesky, U.S. Army I Corps commander.
Haymond said the exercise improved the participating nations’ response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in Indonesia, 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan, 2013 Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and 2015 earthquake in Nepal.
“Seven months ago, Cobra Gold partner nations supported Thai allies in the dramatic rescue of the Wild Boars soccer team from the caves in northern Thailand,” he said.
Teams of international divers saved the 12 boys on the team and their coach, who were trapped when heavy rains flooded the Tham Luang cave as they explored it June 23. The rescue effort lasted 18 days.
This year’s exercise will focus on military field training, civic assistance to communities and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, according to the exercise’s statement.
“Thailand is one of the strongest allies we have,” said Volesky at the opening ceremony. “To strengthen this already strong relationship is absolutely critical for us and I’m excited that we are able to participate.”
Approximately 4,500 U.S. personnel are participating this year, including U.S. Navy Seabees, the amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and the U.S. Air Force 35th Fighter Squadron.
Sunday, the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis also docked in Laem Chabang, Thailand, for a brief port call during its deployment to the Indo-Pacific region.
Altogether, approximately 10,000 personnel are participating in the exercise.
This year’s Cobra Gold comes just ahead of general elections scheduled to take place March 24 in Thailand, the country’s first national elections since a military coup in May 2014.
The number of U.S. units taking part in Cobra Gold were reduced in the year following the coup, although U.S. involvement has returned to normal over the past two years.
“We have witnessed that this Thai-American initiative has become a significant milestone of military collaboration that has expanded to the regional level,” said Benyasri in a statement issued by the exercise. “I believe that not only has Cobra Gold served as a platform for understanding and working together in the region, but has now become beneficial for our other strategic partners.”
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