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March 3, 2024

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

The U.S. will deploy over 6,000 personnel in the Cobra Gold Exercise 2023 in Thailand, the largest number in a decade, as the two long-standing allies celebrate the 190th anniversary of diplomatic ties, U.S. and Thai officials 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.

The drills are set to take place between Feb. 28 and Mar. 10, in the Thai provinces of Lopburi, Chanthaburi, Sa Kaeo and Rayong.

The exercises were scaled down over the previous three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. sent fewer than 3,500 troops last year.

“We’ve certainly returned to a ‘Cobra Gold of Old’ in terms of scale,” said Col. Kurt Leffler, the Senior Defense Official and Defense Attaché to the Kingdom of Thailand, and the Chief of the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG). 

“In terms of scope, however – 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 will participate as exercise partners or observers excluding Myanmar.

“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 very 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.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news organization.

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