Thailand and the United States welcomed 9,000 military personnel from nearly 30 countries to Exercise Cobra Gold 2019, as the world’s longest-running international military training program kicked off here on Tuesday, officials said.
Gen. Pornpipat Benyasri, the supreme commander of Thailand’s armed forces, was joined by Lt. Gen. Gary J. Volesky of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and Peter Haymond, the deputy chief of mission for the American Embassy in Bangkok, during the opening ceremony in northern Pitsanulok province.
“We have witnessed that this Thai-American initiative has become a significant milestone of military collaboration for decades and has expanded to the regional level,” Pornpipat told troops and others attending the opening ceremony. “I believe that not only Cobra Gold serves as the platform of understanding and working together in the region but now has become beneficial for our other strategic partners.”
About 4,500 U.S. personnel and a similar number of troops from up to 28 nations are participating this year, officials said. They said that China and India, which have attended previous Cobra Gold exercises, will participate this time in humanitarian roles only.
The 38th edition of the exercise is to end Feb. 23 and features field training and staff exercises along with humanitarian civic projects throughout Thailand.
The schedule includes an amphibious assault demonstration on Hat Yao Beach in Chonburi province on Feb. 16 and a non-combatant evacuation operation at Wing 46 Air Force Base in Phitsanulok province the next day. Cobra Gold will culminate with a live-fire exercise and closing ceremony on Feb. 22 at the Third Army Training Field in Sukhothai province.
Volesky, the American general, praised the annual training exercise for strengthening ties in the region.
“The military-to-military engagement is critical,” he told BenarNews. “Any time we have an opportunity to keep the line of communication open to ensure understanding to prevent any misinterpretation is good for us and so we encourage military-to-military exchanges.”
“And you see we are very excited to be here with Thai partners to do this. This is one many engagements we have opportunities to do across the entire Pacific, again, to keep free and open the Pacific region for everyone,” he said.
Haymond said major allies Thailand and the U.S. could promote peace in the contested South China Sea, while the U.S. maintains its policy of a free and open Pacific Ocean.
“The United States does not have a claim in the South China Sea, Thailand does not either, but both of us can work to encourage the claimants to settle their claims peacefully and to assure that all countries can share the same rights to international for transport around the world,” he told BenarNews.
“We also urge all countries who have overlapping claims to the South China Sea or elsewhere, to work out their claims in peaceful fashion.”