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Pentagon to Hold Joint Exercise With Thailand's Military Junta

Operation signals ongoing U.S. relationship with Thailand, despite repressive regime, as Obama administration pushes for Asia-Pacific pivot

Army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha arrives at the Peace and Order Maintaing Command to meet with senior government officials on Tuesday. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)

Army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha arrives at the Peace and Order Maintaing Command to meet with senior government officials on Tuesday. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)

The Pentagon is moving forward with plans for a massive exercise with Thailand next week, signaling direct U.S. cooperation with the military junta that runs the country under martial law.

Following Thailand's coup last May, the U.S. suspended military aid and canceled some joint exercises, to signal opposition to the military takeover of the government, which is now headed by Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha.

However, the U.S. is now moving forward with the exercise, which is slated to start on Monday and is termed "Cobra Gold."

U.S. officials appear to be trying to publicly distance themselves from the collaboration, even as they plan for it to proceed.

Melissa Sweeney, spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, told the Washington Post that the U.S. decided this year "to proceed with a significantly refocused and scaled down Cobra Gold 2015 exercise, in light of the Thai military’s ouster of the civilian government."

However, it is not clear what "refocused and scaled down" means, and top officials are providing few details.

According to The Diplomat, a military source said approximately 4,000 U.S. soldiers, 4,000 Thai soldiers, and 10,000 from other Asia-Pacific countries are slated to participate.

The decision to move forward with the exercise appears to be part of the Obama administration's push for a military pivot to the Asia-Pacific region to hedge against China.

"The Obama administration was reluctant to pull out, fearing it could jeopardize Washington’s long-standing military ties with Thailand," journalist Craig Whitlock wrote in the Post. "It also worried that a break with Bangkok would drive the Thai generals closer to China, which is jousting with the United States for influence in Southeast Asia."

The Bangkok Post, however, reported last week that China may play a limited role in the exercise but will be excluded from combat training.

The upcoming Cobra Gold will not be the first U.S. cooperation with a military junta in Thailand. The countries were close allies in the war on Vietnam, despite what NPR calls "Thailand's revolving door of military governments."

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