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US to send most troops in a decade to join Cobra Gold 2023

Cobra Gold 2016 (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel Rolston/US Navy)
February 16, 2023

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

The United States will deploy its largest contingent in 10 years to the Cobra Gold Exercise 2023 in Thailand as the two long-standing allies celebrate the 190th anniversary of diplomatic ties, officials from both countries said Tuesday.

The 42nd iteration of the Indo-Pacific region’s largest combined military exercise will include China as a partner in a humanitarian assistance mission, even though the Sino-U.S. relationship is shaky in the wake of the U.S. downing of an alleged Chinese spy balloon that intruded into its airspace. Myanmar was not invited to join as an observer.

“This year, the United States will bring more than 6,000 personnel to participate in exercise Cobra Gold – the largest U.S. participation in Cobra Gold in a decade,” said Col. Kurt Leffler, senior defense official and Defense Attaché to the Kingdom of Thailand, and the Chief of Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG).

“We’ve certainly returned to a ‘Cobra Gold of Old’ in terms of scale,” said Leffler, who also serves as chief of Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group.

The drills are set to take place between Feb. 27 and March. 10, in the Thai provinces of Lopburi, Chanthaburi, Sa Kaeo and Rayong.

The exercises were scaled down over the previous three years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2022, the U.S. sent less than 1,300 troops to the exercises which drew a total of less than 3,500 participants.

“In terms of scope … the quantity and complexity of exercise events, this Cobra Gold will surpass what has come before,” Leffler told a news conference at the headquarters of the Thai Armed Forces, adding that this year’s exercise prioritizes cyber and space training.

“We have brought cooperation in the cyber and space domains into the exercise, and are experimenting with new operating concepts to prepare for whatever novel threats the future holds,” he said.

‘Limited seats’

Co-organizer Thailand said 7,394 troops from 30 countries would participate as exercise partners or observers excluding Myanmar.

It was not immediately clear how many Thai troops would join the training exercises.

“We have not invited Myanmar to participate in this exercise because we have a limited number of seats,” Gen. Thitichai Tiantong, Thailand’s Armed Forces chief of staff, told the news conference, saying the country had been invited in the past.

The major partners will be Thailand, the U.S., Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and Malaysia. China, India and Australia will join in the humanitarian aid mission.

Exercises range from field training with live fire to humanitarian civic assistance.

The new U.S. ambassador to Bangkok, Robert Godec said the security partnership and Cobra Gold are important because the Indo-Pacific region accounts for almost two-thirds of the world economy and economic growth over the past five years.

“At least a third of global maritime trade goes through the Indo-Pacific region. Our shared security partnership ensures that the goods exported by Thai and American business owners can continue to flow freely, enhancing our shared prosperity,” he said.