First U.S.-ASEAN naval drills kick off in Thailand

In a first for the United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), over 1,250 naval personnel from 11 countries took part in the launch of the U.S.-ASEAN Maritime Exercise at a Thai naval base in Chonburi last week.

“The aim is to train the regional navies in delivering humanitarian assistance and mitigating disasters,” said Vice Admiral Charoenpol Kumrasee, chief-of-staff of the Royal Thai Fleet. Rear Admiral Kenneth Whitesell, deputy commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, joined Vice Admiral Charoenpol in presiding over the opening ceremony.

Each of the ten ASEAN countries will take turns hosting the annual training exercises. Thailand is the logical co-leader and host for the inaugural U.S.-ASEAN Maritime Exercise, or AUMX. The Kingdom is America’s oldest treaty ally in Asia and also co-hosts the largest annual military exercises in Asia-Pacific with the U.S: Cobra Gold.

“When we do join together, we know we have the understanding of how we are going to operate together. That’s why this exercise is critical,” said Admiral Whitesell, adding that the collective training reflects a stronger regional partnership.

The exercises are designed for responding to crises and delivering humanitarian assistance.

The U.S. Navy played a crucial role, for instance, in delivering humanitarian assistance to Indonesia in the aftermath of the 2004 Asian Tsunami that claimed about a half a million lives.

The five-day exercises were held in the Gulf of Thailand and concluded in Singapore last Friday.

The U.S. sent a combat ship and destroyer and was joined by vessels from Brunei, the Philippines, Singapore, Myanmar, and Thailand.

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