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06BANGKOK2644 SCENESETTER FOR THE VISIT OF USARPAC LTG JOHN M. BROWN III

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“62784”,”5/4/2006 10:05″,”06BANGKOK2644″,

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,””,

“This record is a partial extract of the original cable.

The full text of the original cable is not available.

 

“,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 BANGKOK 002644

 

SIPDIS

 

SIPDIS

 

USARPAC FOR LTG BROWN

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/03/2016

TAGS: OVIP, PREL, PGOV, MASS, MARR, TH, Scenesetter

SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR THE VISIT OF USARPAC LTG JOHN M.

BROWN III

 

Classified By: Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce. Reason 1.4 (a and d)

 

1. (C) Summary. John, we are looking forward to your visit

and appreciate USARPAC\’s support of Cobra Gold. We are

pleased that Cobra Gold this year includes the active

participation of Japan, Singapore and Indonesia. We are

working closely with your staff to make Cobra Gold a capstone

event for the Global Peace Operations Initiative in 2007.

While things have settled down for the moment on the domestic

political front, a great deal of uncertainty remains over who

the next Prime Minister will be and the makeup of the new

Parliament. Addressing the separatist unrest in southern

Thailand remains the primary focus of the Royal Thai Army

(RTA). Under the leadership of the RTA CINC, GEN Sonthi

Boonyaratklin, the RTA appears to be improving its ability to

address the unrest. Your visit is also a superb opportunity

to review key security programs with Senior Thai Military

officials. END SUMMARY.

 

THE BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP

 

2. (C) Bilateral relations with Thailand remain very good

despite the uncertainty over domestic politics. Thailand is

a Treaty Ally and has been firmly supportive of the

International War on Terror and has participated in Operation

Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).

American businesses have over $20 billion in direct

investment in Thailand. The United States is Thailand\’s

largest export market and its second-largest foreign investor.

 

3. (C) Nonetheless, there are points of friction. Human

rights remains a key concern. On October 25, 2004, poorly

trained Thai military and civilian security forces forced

nearly 1,300 Thai Muslim protesters into trucks to be

transported to a military base nearly three hours away. 78

protesters died en route. Our protests over Thai Police

involvement in approximately 1,300 extrajudicial killings

during the 2003 Thai \”war on drugs,\” rankles the Thai

Government. Likewise, Thailand\’s policy of \”constructive

engagement\” with the military junta in Burma and provision of

economic assistance to Rangoon is a source of continuing

frustration for us. The Thai government supports democracy in

Burma but maintains, not altogether convincingly, that

engagement with the SPDC is the only realistic approach it

has to make progress on the major cross-border flows of

refugees, illegal economic migrants, and methamphetamines it

faces from Burma.

 

THE OVERALL SECURITY RELATIONSHIP

 

4. (C) The U.S.-Thai security relationship is based on over

50 years of close cooperation. Thai soldiers, sailors and

airmen participated in the Korean and Vietnamese conflicts

and Thai peacekeepers served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Thailand is the fourth largest participant in the U.S.

International Military Education and Training (IMET) program.

Thailand\’s willingness to allow the United States to use

Utapao Naval Air Station as the hub for our regional tsunami

assistance program was key to making Operation Unified

Assistance a success. In fact, PACOM recently designated

Utapao as the most important Cooperative Security Location

(CSL) in the Asia Pacific Region. While we avoid using the

term \”CSL\” with the Thai due to their sensitivities about

bases, Utapao remains vital to our interests in the region.

In your meetings with Thai officials, you will want to note

the overall strength of the relationship — highlighting our

history and underscoring the importance of our tsunami

cooperation, exercise program, increased tempo of USN ship

visits (most recently, the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike

Group), and cooperation in the War on Terrorism.

 

THE POLITICAL SITUATION

 

5. (SBU) The Thai political system is presently working

through its biggest crisis since 1992. After tens of

thousands of Thais participated in peaceful rallies

protesting government corruption and PM Thaksin Shinawatra\’s

(Prime Minister TOCK-SIN) recent tax-free sale of Shin Corp

to Singapore. Thaksin dissolved parliament and called snap

elections. The opposition boycotted the poll, and called on

the voters to abstain. Many small parties, dredged up by the

government to run \”opposition\” candidates were disqualified

for fraud and though Thaksin\’s Thai Rak Thai (TRT) political

party won a majority of votes nationwide on April 2, the

massive number of protest abstentions tainted his \”victory.\”

Thaksin, who is currently caretaker Prime Minister, may not

seek to head the next government, although his plans are not

clear.

 

6. (C) On April 25, the King made public statements highly

critical of undemocratic aspects of the elections, and

instructed the relevant judicial bodies to propose a solution

to the impasse caused by the boycott of opposition parties

and the large number of abstentions. The courts\’

recommendations are expected soon, and could include

annulling the vote and scheduling new elections later this

year. Despite being out of the PM\’s office, most observers

expect that Thaksin will still be the \”puppetmaster\”

directing his party from the background. The situation

remains fluid.

 

COUNTERTERRORISM AND SOUTHERN THAILAND

 

7. (C) Until recently, Prime Minister Thaksin\’s biggest

domestic challenge was the unsettled security situation in

the far southern part of the country. Southern Thailand, in

particular the southernmost Muslim majority provinces of

Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, has experienced episodic

violence since it was incorporated into the Siamese Kingdom

in 1902. However, since January 2004, we have witnessed a

dramatic increase in the level of violence. Press reports

indicate that over 1,000 persons have been killed either by

militants or by security forces during this period. Local

Muslim separatist militants have attacked symbols of Thai and

Buddhist authority, civilians, and local citizens suspected

of collaborating with the Government. There continue to be

daily incidents of violence. In March 2005, Thaksin appointed

a National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) headed by highly

respected former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun to look for

alternative solutions to the long-running insurgency.

 

8. (C) Southern separatists direct their anger at the

government in Bangkok, not at the United States. Since a

U.S. presence or perception of U.S. involvement in the South

could redirect that anger towards us and link it to

the international jihadist movement — a link that is

currently absent — we ensure that any offers of assistance

or training pass the \”location and label\” test. Put simply,

we keep U.S. military personnel away from the far

South and we make sure that we do not label any assistance or

training as directly linked to the southern

situation. Likewise, we work to avoid feeding rampant,

outlandish speculation that we are somehow fomenting the

violence in the South in order to justify building permanent

bases — a very sensitive issue in Thailand. We do not want

to jeopardize our access to key military facilities in

Thailand like Utapao Naval Air Station.

 

9. (C) Working closely with Washington, the Embassy has a

three-pronged focus to improve our military cooperation in

order to address the violence in the South:

 

–1) Using our exercise and training program to improve the

professional and operational skills of the Royal Thai Armed

Forces, especially the Thai Army;

–2) Help the Thai break down stovepipes between the Thai

military, police forces, and civilian agencies;

–3) Do everything we can to ensure the Thai respect

international human rights norms as they counter the violence.

 

Key military programs assisting the Thai include:

 

–JCETs programs focused on enhancing general CT

capabilities, counter-insurgency operations, civil affairs

and psychological operations, and information warfare. Since

FY04 over 2500 Thai soldiers from 50 different units have

been trained in counter-insurgency by U.S. Special Forces.

 

–Building a National Training Facility (NTF). We have

worked with the Thai for over a year to develop an NTF that

can serve as a world-class training facility. Such a site

could not only help hone CT skills and provide human rights

training, but be a key tool to improve peace keeping skills

for soldiers in the region under the Global Peace Operations

Initiative (GPOI). We have been cobbling funds together to

make the NTF a Center of Excellence and could use more.

 

–PSYOPS. We presently support a U.S. Military Information

Support Team (MIST) unit from Ft. Bragg attached to

JUSMAGTHAI. This team will likely be augmented by an

experienced Civil Affairs planner within the next month who

will assist with campaign planning and product support to

counter ideological support to terrorism.

 

At the same time, we are working with Thai and U.S. law

enforcement agencies to improve the professionalization of

various Thai police entitites.

MILITARY COOPERATION

 

10. (C) Perhaps due to their lack of a colonial heritage,

Thai leaders are far more willing to host multilateral

exercises than are others countries in Asia. Unlike Japan,

which only hosts annual bilateral exercises due to legal

prohibitions over collective security, or Australia, which

avoids multilateral exercises so as not to \”dumb down\” its

own training opportunities, the Royal Thai Government

supports multilateral exercises as a way to show regional

leadership. So long as our concepts are properly sold to Thai

military and political leaders, we should be able to continue

to modify exercises to meet our regional security objectives

— including an ability to establish a near-continuous

presence in the region.

 

11. (C) We conduct a wide range of major exercises and

training programs with Thailand each year, including Cobra

Gold. Cobra Gold 2006 will include almost 7,000 U.S. troops

working together with Thai counterparts in field training

exercises ranging from Military Operations in Urban Terrain

and Air Assault Operations to Naval Special Forces protecting

offshore natural gas platforms. The Command Post Exercise at

Cobra Gold will include participation by U.S., Thai,

Japanese, Singaporean and Indonesian forces and will focus on

peace keeping operations. Cobra Gold in the coming years

will be a centerpiece of GPOI, designed to train 15,000

regional peacekeepers by 2010. Utapao, the Thai Navy Air

Base used as the primary staging area for U.S. disaster

relief efforts in the region following the December 2004

tsunami, has long been a critical support hub for U.S.

 

SIPDIS

aircraft transiting the region. Over 420 DOD aircraft use it

each year. Our largest air exercise, Cope Tiger, involves

Thailand, the United States and Singapore. We have also been

working closely with PACFLT to give our major naval exercise,

CARAT, a more regional flavor in the coming years.

 

THE ROLE OF CHINA AND INDIA IN THE REGION

 

12. (C) Southeast Asia continues to feel the rising influence

of China and India. While emphasizing the vital role of the

U.S. in the region — and Thailand\’s desire to intensify U.S.

engagement — Thai leaders also focus on developing stronger

relations with the two regional powers. Bangkok views both

countries as sources of unlimited consumer demand and hope to

conclude Free Trade Agreements with both nations. It

surprises many visitors from Washington to learn that the

Thai military has a number of Chinese weapons systems in its

arsenal. While Thai military links with the United States are

deeper and far more apparent than Sino-Thai links, China\’s

growing influence in Thailand and Southeast Asia is evident

in business, the arts, the media and the military. The PLA

Navy has close links with the RTN and recently conducted a

major ship visit to Phuket. After jointly holding a limited

naval exercise in the Andaman Sea last fall, Thailand and

China are exploring conducting joint SAR exercises. The RTN

has acquired several ships from China over the past decade.

China is refurbishing tanks and air defense equipment

provided to Thailand in the late 1980\’s. Thailand is also

trying to negotiate a barter deal trading Chinese armored

vehicles for Thai fruit. Mil-to-mil exchanges between China

and Thailand have expanded in recent years as has the number

of bilateral military VIP visits.

 

THAI MILITARY STRUCTURE

 

13. (C) The relative power and influence of the Royal Thai

Army (RTA) dwarfs the other services. As such, the Royal Thai

Army Commander traditionally wields more real power than the

Supreme Commander. Thailand\’s armed forces, which had a

history of interfering in the country\’s politics, have not

done so since 1992 and appear to be fully reconciled to

constitutional roles of defense and security. Their exposure

to U.S. civil-military values through their extensive

participation in IMET training deserves some credit for this

transformation of their attitude towards democracy.

 

THE ROLE OF THE ARMY

 

14. (C) The Royal Thai Army (RTA) is a legacy force faced

with serious modernization issues. Although 30 years have

passed, the RTA is still primarily organized and equipped to

defeat the large conventional threat that Vietnam represented

in the mid-1980\’s. However, poor maintenance and systemic

logistical support problems have undermined operational

readiness (OR) rates of tanks, helicopters and other major

systems. The real capacity of the RTA is difficult to judge

due to the large and fluctuating gap between the stated table

of organization and equipment (TOEs) and the real OR rates.

 

15. (C) Much of the continuing decline in operational

capacity is due to the budget constraints that were imposed

from 1997-2001 after the Asian Financial Crisis that have

severely impacted training and procurement. Since that time,

budgets have increased slightly, but not to pre-1997 levels.

Accordingly, the RTA must selectively choose how to

modernize. Serious corruption in the procurement process is

still widespread — and acknowledged by many Thai officers.

The RTA relies on JUSMAGTHAI and the Foreign Military Sales

(FMS) system for many of their high-profile procurement

programs. JUSMAGTHAI is working with the RTA on a $24M

program to refurbish 7 AH-1 Cobras. The RTA has recently

funded an FMS case to purchase up to 70,000 M16-A4 rifles.

Two additional UH-60 Blackhawks will arrive in Thailand in

early May 2006, bringing the RTA\’s fleet up to 7 total

aircraft. Additionally, the RTA is purchasing limited

quantities of GEN III Night Vision Goggles and Thermal

Weapons Sights. Significant direct commercial procurement

activity includes the purchase of over 1000 M240 machine guns

and negotiations are underway over the purchase of 96 LAVs

from Canada and the local refurbishment of 16 UH-1

helicopters originally procured through FMS.

 

16. (C) The RTA\’s transformation vision, unpublished and

informal as it is, is to become lighter and more mobile with

upgraded C4I systems that will make it more agile

operationally. On the C4I front, much work remains. The RTA

HQ and subordinate commands use commercial dial-up Internet

services and email accounts, if they use email at all.

However, they do have VTC capability and use it frequently.

 

17. (C) The RTG\’s CT effort in the South has been plagued by

repeated changes of government policies and lead agencies.

Shortly after taking power, Thaksin decided to dissolve the

joint civilian-police-military Task Force which since the

1980s had successfully contained the separatist-related

violence. The loss of that coordinating body increased the

natural propensity of the Thai bureaucracy to stovepipe

information and not cooperate operationally. The problems

caused by this lack of coordination have been compounded by

the constant shifting of both the civilian and military

leadership responsible for the South. In addition, Thaksin

often set unrealistic deadlines for his deputies to \”solve\”

the southern problem and has been inconsistent in his policy

statements, creating a situation where the operational

leadership has a weak mandate and lack of strategic focus.

Last year, Thaksin settled on Army CINC GEN Sonthi

Boonyaratklin (who is a Muslim with a Special Forces

Background) as his chief military representative. Sonthi

recently assured me that the Army was rebuilding its

intelligence and political network in the South, which is a

good sign. Nonetheless, there is little guarantee that the

Government won\’t switch course again in response to an actual

or perceived setback.

 

18. (C) While the RTA has a long history working with the

U.S. Army, recently we have also been working with MARFORPAC

and III MEF to improve links between the U.S Marine Corps and

the RTA. In many ways, our Marines are perfect training

partners for the RTA and field exercises in Thailand afford

our Marines many opportunities they don\’t have elsewhere in

Asia. We will host the USS Essex Amphibious Assault Ship

during Cobra Gold and are looking for other training

opportunities in the coming months.

 

WE LOOK FORWARD TO YOUR VISIT

 

19. (U) We are grateful for the terrific support your staff

has shown in making Cobra Gold 2006 a success. We look

forward to your visit.

BOYCE

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Written by thaicables

July 11, 2011 at 8:09 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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