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Cobra Gold declared a victory for a

Agence France Presse

May 29, 2001, Tuesday 5:29 AM, Eastern Time

Cobra Gold declared a victory for anti-drugs, humanitarian operations

BYLINE: Thanaporn Promyamyai


Thai, Singaporean and US troops on Tuesday wrapped up two
weeks of war games which officials declared a success for regional
peacekeeping, humanitarian and anti-narcotics efforts.

Codenamed "Cobra Gold," the exercise attracted observers from nine
nations in 2001 and again ranked as the biggest annual training event
involving US forces in the Asia-Pacific region.

"The exercise this year has involved many humanitarian projects.
And we hope it will help us and other countries take more of a part in
United Nations peacekeeping forces," said Cobra Gold commander
Thai General Sampao Chusri.

Sampao said this year's drills included special training for Thailand's
fledgling Task Force 399, an anti-drug unit being trained by US
special forces troops to patrol the Myanmar border region.

Methamphetamine labs proliferate along the rugged border separating
Thailand and Myanmar, which is also one of the world's biggest sources
of heroin.

Tensions between Thailand and its western neighbour have heightened in
recent months, with both sides accusing each other of backing the ethnic
armies who are reputed to run the drugs trade.

"The result of the training has indeed helped a lot of us improve the
capabilities of our task force along the northern border," Sampao said.

Some 200 military representatives gathered here to close out the tripartite
maneuvers that saw upwards of 10,000 troops join in activities including
an amphibious troop landing on Thai beaches.

This year, the battle simulations were carried out in small groups rather
than in a single group as in previous years, officials said.

"Today, few militaries face the threat of large scale conventional warfare,"
said US charge d'affaires to Thailand Marie Huhtala.

"They are much more likely to be called upon to face the threat of an
insurgency, cope with a natural or man-made disaster, or manage the
evacuation of civilians from zones of danger," she said.

"What is needed are militiaries that can deploy peacekeepers to
combat areas, deliver humanitarian assistance, conduct search and
rescue missions and conduct non-combatant evacuations."

The United States this year linked Cobra Gold with two other regional
exercises its forces are taking part in simultaneously -- Tandem Thrust
with Australian forces and Balikatan with the Philippines.

US officials also dedicated a school built during Cobra Gold exercises
and offered medical services to local villagers as part of a cooperation
project between Thai and US military engineers and doctors.

Countries observing the drill included the Philippines, Japan, Malaysia,
Indonesia, Australia, Sri Lanka, Mongolia, South Korea and France.

Singapore sent some 55 officers to join the excercise, while Thailand
deployed 5,820 soldiers and the United States sent 4,973. Next year
Cobra Gold will be held in central Thailand.