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Cobra Gold war games get green light

By Wassana Nanuam

The United States has decided to go ahead with the 26th annual Cobra Gold exercise, which was put on hold following the Sept 19 coup and suspension of US military aid to Thailand. The deal-maker was the lifting of martial law across much of the country.

There were doubts as to whether the annual joint military exercise would go ahead this year following the military coup that ousted the elected government headed by then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in September.

But Supreme Commander Boonsrang Niumpradit said he had been informed by the US that the war games will take place as scheduled following the Council for National Security's decision to lift martial law in 41 provinces, including Bangkok.

Other provinces, including those in the far South and most of the North and Northeast, are still subject to military restrictions.

Gen Boonsrang said Washington's decision reflected the improving sentiment of the international community towards Thailand, particularly the US, now that the country was heading towards democracy, with the new charter being drafted and elections to be held soon.

This year's operation, which is the 26th Cobra Gold exercise, will be carried out from May 8-18.

Following the Sept 19 coup, Washington immediately suspended military cooperation and cut US$24 million (902 million baht) in military aid, including over 50 scholarships for military studies and training.

US law forbids assistance to the government of a country where an elected leader has been deposed in a coup.

The number of US soldiers taking part in the drill this year had not been confirmed, Gen Boonsrang said, adding the number might not be as high as the tens of thousands that normally join.

Thailand and the US have been holding the exercise since 1982. Singapore has also been a regular participant in the exercise since 2000 but sends only a small number of troops. Last year 21 nations were invited to observe the exercise.

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