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09BANGKOK1720 SCENESETTER FOR GENERAL CASEY’S MEETING WITH THAI ARMY COMMANDER GENERAL ANUPONG

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“216975”,”7/16/2009 23:43″,”09BANGKOK1720″,

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,””,”VZCZCXRO9603

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“C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05

BANGKOK 001720

 

SIPDIS

 

DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY FOR GENERAL CASEY

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/16/2019

TAGS: PGOV, PREL, MARR, MOPS, PINS, PHUM, TH

SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR GENERAL CASEY\’S MEETING WITH THAI

ARMY COMMANDER GENERAL ANUPONG

 

Classified By: Ambassador Eric G. John, reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

 

1. (C) Summary. General Casey, your meeting with Thai Army

Commander General Anupong will afford the opportunity to

highlight the importance of Thailand to our regional security

interests and emphasize our support for important areas of

our mil-mil relationship. Our military relationship provides

distinctive force projection opportunities from vital sea and

air lanes, the opportunity to conduct training exercises that

are nearly impossible to match elsewhere in Asia, and a

willing participant in international peacekeeping operations.

As Army Commander, General Anupong is among the most

influential figures in Thailand, and he was an invaluable

steadying factor during political turmoil over the past year.

Anupong firmly resisted calls from a wide range of actors

for military intervention and has insisted both publicly and

privately that Thailand\’s political troubles can only be

worked out through the democratic process. End Summary.

 

ENDURING BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP

——————————-

 

2. (C) Our military relationship began during World War II

when the U.S. trained hundreds of Thais as part of the \”Free

Thai Movement\” that covertly conducted special operations

against the Japanese forces occupying Thailand and drew

closer during the Korean War era when Thailand provided

troops for the UN effort. Thai soldiers, sailors, and airmen

also fought side-by-side with U.S. counterparts in the

Vietnam War and, more recently, Thailand sent contingents to

Afghanistan and Iraq.

 

3. (C) The relationship has evolved into a partnership that

provides the U.S. with unique benefits. As one of five U.S.

treaty allies in Asia and straddling a major force projection

air/sea corridor, Thailand remains crucial to U.S. interests

in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. Underpinning our

strong bilateral relations is the U.S.-Thai security

relationship, which is based on over fifty years of close

cooperation. The relationship has advanced USG interests

while developing Thai military, intelligence, and law

enforcement capabilities.

 

4. (C) Thailand\’s strategic importance to the U.S. should not

be understated. Our military engagement affords us unique

training venues in Asia training, training exercises that are

nearly impossible to match elsewhere in Asia, a willing

participant in international peacekeeping operations,

essential access to facilities amid vital sea and air lanes

that support contingency and humanitarian missions, and a

partner that is a key ASEAN nation in which we continue to

promote democratic ideals.

 

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

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

Anupong Paochinda wields more power than does the Chief of

Defense Forces General Songkitti Jaggabartra and is currently

among the most influential figures Thailand. Anupong was an

invaluable steadying factor during political turmoil over the

past year. Anupong firmly resisted calls from a wide range

of actors for military intervention, and has insisted both

publicly and privately that Thailand\’s political troubles can

only be worked out through the democratic process. Anupong

reportedly is close to the Thai Royal Family and has

well-established support among the Army ranks. He has

shifted the RTA\’s focus away from politics, as it was under

the previous RTA Commander General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, to

the South, where he visits once a week.

 

POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT

———————

 

6. (C) The December 2008 installation of the Democrat-led

coalition government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajjiva has

calmed for now the political situation. Street protests by

People\’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) appear to be finished

and while demonstrations by the now anti-government United

Front of Democracy for Dictatorship (UDD) turned violent in

April, the political situation now appears calmer. Prime

Minister Abhisit is off to a reasonably good start in his

first months in office, but his government faces significant

political challenges and a tough economic situation.

 

BANGKOK 00001720 002 OF 005

 

7. (C) The basic split in Thai society and the body politic

remains. The traditional royalist elite, urban middle class,

Bangkok, and the south on one side (\”yellow\” in shorthand)

and the political allies of ex-Prime Minister Thaksin

Shinawatra, currently a fugitive abroad, along with largely

rural supporters in the North and Northeast (\”red\”) on the

other. Neither side of this split is as democratic as it

claims to be, and both movements reflect concerns stemming

from perceptions of a lack of social and economic justice in

Thailand. New elections would not appear to be a viable

solution to political divide, and political discord could

very well persist for years. We continue to stress to Thai

interlocutors the need for all parties to avoid violence and

respect democratic norms within the framework of the

constitution and rule of law.

 

IMPORTANT MILITARY ENGAGEMENT PROGRAM

————————————-

 

8. (C) Thailand\’s willingness to allow the United States to

use Utapao Naval Air Station as the hub for our regional

assistance program was key to making the 2004 tsunami and the

2008 Cyclone Nargis relief operations a success. While those

high-profile relief operations highlighted publicly the value

of access to Utapao, the air base is used regularly for

military flights. A prime example was the critical support

Utapao provided during OEF by providing an air bridge in

support of refueling missions en route to Afghanistan.

Approximately 300 flights have transited Utapao this year in

support of critical U.S. military operations both regionally

and to strategic areas of the world. Thailand also provides

valued port access with U.S. naval vessels making calls,

primarily at Laem Chabang and Sattahip, over forty times per

year for exercises and visits.

 

COBRA GOLD AND THE MILITARY EXERCISE PROGRAM

——————————————–

 

9. (C) By means of access to good military base

infrastructure and large areas to conduct unrestricted

operations, Thailand gives the U.S. military a platform for

exercises unique in Asia. Thai leaders are far more willing

to host multinational exercises than are other countries in

Asia. Unlike Japan, which only hosts annual bilateral

exercises due to legal prohibitions over collective security,

or the Philippines, where planning for multinational

exercises has been difficult, or Australia, which refuses to

multilateralize Tandem Thrust, the Thai government encourages

multinational exercises as a way to show regional leadership.

This has allowed us to use exercises in Thailand to further

key U.S. objectives, such as supporting Japan\’s growing

military role in Asia and engaging the Indonesian and

Singaporean militaries.

 

10. (C) Cobra Gold, the capstone event of our exercise

program, is PACOM\’s largest annual multi-lateral exercise and

for 28 years has served to strengthen our relations with

Thailand, highlight our commitment to Southeast Asia, and

provide exceptional training opportunities for our troops.

The event has evolved over the years and now facilitates

important objectives such as promoting a greater role in the

Asian Pacific region for Japan and Singapore and

re-establishing a partner role with Indonesia. Cobra Gold is

key to building partner nation capacity in humanitarian

assistance and disaster relief, especially at a time when

U.S. forces face other global commitments. We have also been

able to incorporate into Cobra Gold a robust Global

Peacekeeping Operations Initiative (GPOI) event with active

participation of Indonesia and Singapore.

 

BORDER CONFLICT WITH CAMBODIA

—————————–

 

11. (C) Bilateral relations with Cambodia continue to be

volatile, primarily due to a border dispute centered on 4.6

square kilometers of overlapping territorial claims adjacent

to the 11th century Hindu Preah Vihear temple. Minor

skirmishes have erupted three times in the past year, leading

to the deaths of seven soldiers.

 

12. (C) The roots of the dispute lie in the Siam-France

 

BANGKOK 00001720 003 OF 005

 

agreements of 1904-8 and a 1962 International Court of

Justice ruling that granted Cambodia the temple but left the

rest of disputed land unresolved. Tensions spiked in

mid-2008 when the Thai government in power at that time

supported Cambodia\’s application to UNESCO for a joint

listing of the temple as a world heritage site, only to face

opposition in parliament and an adverse court ruling.

 

13. (C) Difficult issues lay at the heart of the matter and

political conflict in Bangkok may make tough decisions more

difficult for the Thai government. We urge both sides to

resolve their differences peacefully through bilateral

negotiations, border demarcation, and a reduction of troops

deployed along the border.

 

PEACEKEEPING EFFORTS

——————–

 

14. (C) Thailand has historically been a strong supporter of

UN peacekeeping missions and was an early contributing nation

to operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition, Thai

generals very effectively led UN forces in East Timor, to

which Thailand contributed 1,500 troops, and in Aceh where a

Thai general served as the principal deputy of the Aceh

Monitoring Mission, Thailand\’s success in peacekeeping has

led the RTG and the military to seek a more prominent role in

international stabilization and peacekeeping missions. For

instance, Thailand is currently preparing for a deployment of

a battalion of troops for a difficult UNAMID mission in

Darfur. We have continued to underscore to the leadership of

the Thai military that we stand ready to assist the Thai

where possible.

 

15. (C) We are working with the military to increase its

peacekeeping capabilities, both as a contributing nation and

as a trainer of neighboring nations. Using GPOI funding,

necessary upgrades and modernization work to a peacekeeping

training facility at Pranburi will be completed in FY10.

Thailand will provide instructors and maintain the facility,

which will be used for Thai peacekeepers for deployments

abroad and for peacekeeping training events with regional

partners. Thailand is also working to become a center for

training peacekeeping troops from around the region.

 

CONTINUED REFUGEE CONCERNS

————————–

 

16. (C) Due to inherent institutional capabilities, the Thai

military plays a prominent role in the management of the many

refugees that enter Thailand from neighboring countries. The

Thai government has so far failed to set up a transparent

screening process for the thousands of Lao Hmong, many of

whom we believe have a legitimate claim to refugee status,

who seek resettlement in the U.S. Some are former fighters

(or their descendants) allied with the U.S. against the

communist Pathet Lao during the IndoChina War. We want to

take every opportunity to underscore to the military the

importance of transparently handling these refugee cases.

 

SOUTHERN THAILAND

—————–

 

17. (C) The Thai military, since the installation of General

Anupong as Army Commander, has taken a more assertive role in

trying to quell the ethnic Malay Muslim-led insurgency in

southern Thailand, a region that has witnessed episodic

violence since its incorporation into Thailand in 1902.

Regional violence has claimed more than 3,500 lives since

January 2004, when the violence began to escalate. The root

causes of the conflict are political and reflect larger

issues of justice, decentralized democracy, and identity in

Thai society. More specifically, however, Malay Muslims feel

that they are second-class citizens in Thailand.

 

18. (C) The Thai military currently has the lead in trying to

resolve the conflict, but has focused solely on the difficult

security situation. General Anupong has made clear his

feeling that political leaders need to take charge of efforts

to solve the root causes of the insurgency. There is little

political will in Bangkok to take on this issue, however, and

effort of civilian agencies have lagged, focusing on economic

development projects – which most analysts agree will have

 

BANGKOK 00001720 004 OF 005

 

little impact on the violence. While the Abhisit government

appears to want to adopt an integrated government approach to

solving the insurgency with budgetary and policy decisions

possibly transferred to the Office of the Prime Minister, it

remains unclear how the civil-military dynamic will change.

 

19. (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.

 

20. (C) The Embassy maintains 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) Helping the Thai break down stovepipes between the Thai

military, police forces, and civilian agencies;

3) Doing everything we can to ensure the Thai respect

international human rights norms as they counter the violence.

 

INTEROPERABILITY

—————-

 

21. (SBU) The U.S. remains the country of first choice for

arms procurement by the military, and has more than $2

billion of arms procurements currently in process. We

continue to look at ways to improve interoperability with the

Thai military, but must take into account the presence of

other regional and global players. Following U.S. sanctions

imposed by the coup in 2006, other countries such as China,

Israel, Sweden, and South Africa were looked at more closely

for procurement. As of late the RTA has embarked on an

equipment mondernization program. The most recent near-term

procurement opportunity with the Army is the expected

purchase of three UH-60L helicopters, which would bring their

fleet to ten, with the possibility of an additional six

being purchased in the next two to four years. Procurement

of UH-60Ls are seen as a workhorse replacement for the

current fleet of Vietnam-era UH1H helicopters that are

nearing the end of their lifecycle.

 

22. (SBU) The Defense Resource Management Study (DRMS)

program is in its second phase in Thailand. There has been

excellent acceptance at the Royal Thai Armed Forces

Headquarters, and more moderate support from the Ministry of

Defense, the Army, Air Force, and Navy. (Note: The Army has

the largest service component budget funded at a 2:1:1 ratio

respectively. End note.) The DRMS program has powerful

resource management and budget modeling tools which can help

the RTA better manage limited resources, although some

resistance can be expected as the Army stands to lose the

most from the additional transparency provided by the

program.

 

23. (SBU) The Royal Thai Army Directorate of Operations has

expressed strong interest in building a non-commissioned

officer development program (NCODP). JUSMAG is supporting

this program and has incorporated NCODP tasks into all JCET

and COIN SMEE engagement venues. We are working with USARPAC

to send two Thai officers to evaluate the Philippine NCODP

and will program future year IMET funding for future years to

further this initiative.

 

THE INCREASING ROLE OF CHINA

—————————-

 

24. (C) Thai leaders continue to develop closer relations

with China while simultaneously emphasizing the vital role of

the U.S. in the region. While Thai military links with the

 

BANGKOK 00001720 005 OF 005

 

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.

 

25. (C) The Chinese through hosting visits have made a strong

effort to court the Thai military, particularly General

Anupong. The Thai military has a range of Chinese weapons

systems in its arsenal; the PLA Navy is interested in closer

links with the Thai navy, and China has worked with Thailand

to improve air defense equipment provided to Thailand in the

late 1980\’s. In 2007 and 2008, Thai and Chinese Special

Forces conducted joint exercises, and other mil-to-mil

exchanges have expanded in recent years, as has the number of

bilateral military VIP visits. A yet to be finalized

bilateral Marine Corps exercise between China and Thailand

near the eastern seaboard port of Sattahip next year

highlights the continuing push by China to expand their

mil-to-mil relations with Thailand\’s military.

 

26. (C) As the shape of Southeast Asia, Asia writ large, and

the world has changed, so have Thai attitudes. The Chinese

have been making a major push to upgrade all aspects of

relations, including mil-mil. Thailand is not interested in

making a choice between the U.S. and China (nor do we see

closer Chinese-Thai relations as automatically threatening to

our interests here), but we will need to work harder to

maintain the preferred status we have enjoyed.

JOHN

Written by thaicables

July 21, 2011 at 5:44 am

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