BANGKOK (Reuters) – An annual joint military exercise between the United States and Thailand will kick off on Sunday on a reduced scale compared to pre-pandemic times, with traditional war games absent from a two-week programme of largely humanitarian training drills.
“Cobra Gold”, which was launched in 1982, is the world longest-running multinational military exercise and serves as a key platform for the United States to shore up alliances in Asia at a time of increasing competition with China.
China will also be taking part, along with military personnel from India, Indonesia and U.S. allies South Korea and Australia.
They will joined by about 1,200 American and 2,000 Thai troops in field and humanitarian assistance drills that will last until March 5. Activities like live fire drills, amphibious landings and evacuation operations will not be part of this year’s event.
In 2019, about 4,500 American soldiers participated in Cobra Gold. In 2020, 106 took part and 600 joined last year.
Despite the smaller scope, Thailand sees the exercises an essential mechanism to enhance military cooperation, its defence ministry spokesperson Kongcheep Tantravanich said.
Myanmar, previously a Cobra Gold observer, will not be taking part for a second successive year, which Kongcheep said was not related to the crisis in the country since the military seized power last year.
The United States has condemned the Myanmar military, with which Thailand’s military has historically had good ties.
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor)