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