Thailand and U.S. kick off Cobra Gold military exercises

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Strategic cooperation moved full steam ahead as Thailand and the United States kicked off the 35th annual joint military exercises known as Cobra Gold in Sattahip last week with a ceremony that included speeches by the U.S. ambassador and other dignitaries. More than 8,000 troops from seven countries are taking part with observers and participants from a total of 27 nations.

Nearly 3,000 American troops, including 1,900 Marines, are in Thailand for the largest military exercises co-hosted by the United States. Cobra Gold underscores the vital security partnership between Thailand and the U.S. that endures despite changing political and economic landscapes. While Southeast Asia has seen fewer conflicts in recent years, the need for security cooperation remains strong in the face of growing non-traditional threats, such as those posed by transnational criminal syndicates, non-state actors and man-made and natural disasters.

Asia and the Pacific is the most natural disaster-prone region in the world. In most cases, when earthquakes, tsunamis or other calamities strike, militaries take a leading role in rescue and relief operations because of their logistical capabilities, training and readiness. Recent Cobra Gold exercises have reflected that reality and their programs have slowly shifted in order to provide participating militaries with the knowledge and experience to save more people.

“Our shift in primary focus from combat operations to interoperability among the participating nations to enable effective crisis response … is a continuation of the changes during [Cobra Gold 15], and is a vitally important shift given the combined task force efforts required to respond to such events as the Nepal earthquake,” Staff Sgt. Jose Nava, a Marine Corps spokesman based in Okinawa, told the Marine Corps Times website.

Responding to such events also includes helping out in the rebuilding phase, and U.S. and other troops joined with local Thais to help construct and repair schoolhouses and other basic infrastructure, for the purposes of both training and forging good will.

“This year’s Cobra Gold will consist of three primary events: a command post exercise, which includes a senior leader seminar; humanitarian civic assistance projects in Thai communities; and a field training exercise that will build regional relationships,” the Marine Corps said in a press release.

“This year, Cobra Gold will strengthen regional cooperation and collaboration, increasing the ability of participating nations to work together on complex multilateral operations such as counter-piracy and the delivery of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” the Marine Corps said.

Thailand’s Armed Forces also deliver critical trainings on the skills needed to survive in the region’s jungles. Royal Thai forces teach U.S. service members what they can eat and drink in the jungle among others, such as cobra’s blood and scorpions. The exercises traditionally involve U.S. service members drinking cobra blood, eating bugs and biting into a chicken with the feathers still on.