wikileaks ico  Home papers ico  Cables mirror and Afghan War Diary privacy policy Privacy
2005-04-26 01:06:00
Embassy Bangkok
Cable title:  


pdf how-to read a cable
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 05 BANGKOK 002798 



E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/21/2015

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


1. (C) General Brown, your visit to Bangkok to meet with
Royal Thai Army (RTA) leaders and Chiang Mai to observe this
year's Cobra Gold exercise will allow you an opportunity to
develop relationships with senior Thai Army officers. We
have requested meetings for you with RTA CINC GEN Prawit
Wongsuwan (General PRAH-WIT), Royal Thai Supreme Command
(RTSC) Chief of Staff General Boonsrang Niampradith (General
BOON-SANG), RTSC J-3 LTG Khemerat Kanchanawat (General
KEM-AH-RAHT), and RTSC J-7 MG Noporat Yodvimol (General
NO-PO-RAHT). In these meetings, you will get a sense of how
important years of Theater Security Cooperation (TSC) has
been. This cooperation was perhaps best illustrated recently
during our cooperation to mitigate the damage caused in SE
Asia by the December 26 tsunami. Since Cobra Gold this year
will focus on lessons learned from the tsunami, it will be
appropriate for you to probe your interlocutors to learn how
our years of joint combined exercises, training and
cooperation has benefited Thailand's ability to take part in
peacekeeping operations in East Timor, Afghanistan, and Iraq
as well as prepare Thai forces to work better during the
tsunami crisis. You will find the Thai Army to be by far the

most powerful branch of the Thai armed forces. You may also
wish to discuss challenges RTA and RTSC officers face in
improving "jointness" among the Thai services. End Summary


2. (C) Bilateral relations with Thailand are very good.
The goodwill generated by America's quick and massive
response to the December 26 tsunami was palpable. 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

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. The State Department's annual
human rights report (HRR), which in 2004 voiced concern over
the lack of accountability for approximately 1,300
extrajudicial killings in the initial 2003 phase of a Thai
"war on drugs" promoted by the Prime Minister, rankles the
Thai Government.

4. (C) 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.

5. (C) 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. Recently, we have learned that China is
refurbishing tanks and air defense equipment provided to
Thailand in the late 1980's. Thailand is also currently
negotiating 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.


6. (C) We conduct a wide range of major exercises and
training programs with Thailand each year, including Cobra
Gold, the annual exercise which in 2004 involved
approximately 13,500 U.S. service members and 6,000 Thais.
Cobra Gold 2005 will be smaller than last year, primarily due
to U.S. commitments elsewhere and the large number of U.S.
forces sent to the region for tsunami relief. Utapao, the
Thai Navy Air Base used as the primary staging area for U.S.
disaster relief efforts in the region, has long been a
critical support hub for U.S. aircraft transiting the region.
Over 420 DoD aircraft use it each year. From January 25
until February 4, we conducted our largest air exercise with
the Thai, Cope Tiger. This year, F-18's from the USS Abraham
Lincoln participated. Our largest naval exercise is the
Combined Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) series which
will take place again in June. Recently, a number of senior
U.S. military officials have visited Thailand -- then-Deputy
Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz visited in January, Seventh

Fleet Commander VADM Greenert came in February and March,
SOCPAC Commander BG Fridovich was in Thailand April 17-20, 13
AF Maj.Gen. Rice came April 19-21, and JIATF-West Commander
Admiral Rear Admiral Kelly visited April 20-24. ADM Fallon
will be visiting Thailand a few days prior to your trip.


7. (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. General Chaisit Shinawatra was the
head of the RTA until the military reshuffle last October.
His "promotion" to head Supreme Command is viewed by many as
the result of PM Thaksin's displeasure with Chaisit's
inability to quickly control the unrest in the southern part
of the country. In October, Thaksin named Deputy Supreme
Commander Sirichai Thanyasiri (General SIR-A-CHAI) to take
over strategic planning for the south. Thailand's armed
forces, which had a history of interfering in the country's
politics, have not emerged from the barracks since 1992 and
appear to be fully reconciled to constitutional roles of
defense and security. Their exposure to US civil-military
values through their extensive participation in IMET training
deserves some credit for this transformation of their
attitude towards democracy.


8. (C) The RTA is a legacy force faced with serious
modernization issues. Although 30 years have passed, the RTA
is still primarily designed to defeat the large conventional
threat that Vietnam represented in the mid-1980's. On paper,
the RTA would seem to possess the capability to defeat a
large conventional attack -- it seems to possess an
impressive number of main battle tanks, TOW missiles, and
helicopters. Digging deeper, however, one quickly discovers
real equipment problems. 80 of Thailand's 100 M60A3 main
battle tanks are inoperable, TOW missiles are past their
useful life expectancy and, at any given time, only 30 of the
RTA's 96 UH-1 helicopters are operational.

9. (C) Much of this decline in effectiveness is due to the
budget constraints that were imposed from 1997-2001 after the
Asian Financial Crisis. 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. Consequently, the
RTA relies on JUSMAGTHAI and the Foreign Military Sales (FMS)
system for many of their high-profile procurement programs.
Recent examples include:

--the 32 million USD purchase of 30 fully refurbished UH-1H
--the 84 million USD purchase of 7 UH-60 helicopters (five
already delivered, two due in December);
--a recent request for 20,000 M-16A4 rifles valued at 12
million USD, and;
--a proposal to buy and refurbish 7 AH-1 Cobras at a cost of
25 million USD.

10. (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. They
do have VTC capability and use it frequently.


11. (U) The massive rescue and recovery operation
undertaken by the U.S. military as a result of the December
26 tsunami was historic. Mercifully, U.S. casualties were
much lighter (about two dozen confirmed or presumed dead)
than those suffered by several other countries. Thousands of
Thai, Europeans and other Asians were killed in the Phuket
area -- a haven for vacationers during the holiday season.
Total fatalities will likely never be known; the official
number is about 5,400 but Thai officials privately say they
expect the final death toll to top 8,000.

12. (C) U.S. disaster relief efforts, led by the U.S.
military, had an immediate impact on affected areas in
Thailand. III MEF Commander, Lt. Gen. Robert Blackman, was
the commanding general of Combined Support Force 536 (CSF
536), which was based out of Utapao. CSF 536 worked closely
with the Embassy and JUSMAGTHAI to ensure that requests for
assistance were promptly addressed and to assist coordination
of relief from civilian agencies, NGOs and corporate donors.
The Royal Thai Armed Forces granted the U.S. military blanket
overflight clearances for relief operations in the region,
including for aircraft from the USS Abraham Lincoln Battle
Group which operated off Sumatra. In addition to permitting
our use of Utapao, the Royal Thai Government integrated Thai
officers into the CSF staff where needed. During the height
of operations, over 1800 USG personnel operated out of
Utapao. We distributed over 660,000 pounds of supplies within
Thailand including medicine, food, dry ice and body bags.
USAF C-130s made regular delivery runs from Utapao and
Bangkok to affected areas for time sensitive supplies while
bulk shipments tended to go overland. USN P-3s positioned at
Utapao conducted search and rescue missions in the vicinity
of Thailand and in the region. Teams made up of medical
specialists from the CDC, the Armed Forces Research Institute
of Medical Science and the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command
in Hawaii were also deployed to Thailand to assist with
victim identification. U.S. Navy SEALS and a representative
from the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance worked closely
with Thai military units to search for the remains of
American and other victims of the disaster. From the
beginning of the disaster, the Defense Attache Office painted
the intel picture for commanders, forces, planners, and
national decision makers. Embassy Bangkok provided 24-hour
American Citizens Services for weeks after the crisis to
assist Americans, claim Amcit remains and coordinate USG
relief efforts.

13. (C) CSF 536's concept of operations set up Utapao as
the hub for U.S. relief efforts bound for Sri Lanka and
Indonesia in addition to Thailand. In each of those
countries, Combined Support Groups (CSG) were established to
interact with the local government, the U.S. Embassies and
the NGO community. CSG-Thailand was based in Phuket and
redeployed on January 22. Since that time, ongoing
reconstruction efforts in Thailand are being managed by the
Embassy, JUSMAGTHAI, and USAID. A key part of those efforts
is to focus civil affairs projects carried out under our
military exercise authority in Thailand to assist Thais
rebuilding in the devastated areas around Phuket. At least
one COMREL project conducted as part of Cobra Gold 05 will
take place in the tsunami-devastated region.

14. (C) Cobra Gold 2005 will consist of a one-week disaster
relief seminar for military, government civilians and NGOs,
aimed at capturing some lessons learned from the tsunami
mitigation effort followed by a one-week staff exercise in
Chiang Mai focused on a disaster relief scenario. In your
discussions with Thai officials, it will be appropriate for
you to underscore the fact that our successes in mitigating
the damage caused by the tsunami were due in no small part to
the decades of military cooperation between our two
countries, cooperation that is perhaps best symbolized by the
annual Cobra Gold exercise. By focusing Cobra Gold 05 on
disaster relief, we hope to capture the lessons learned by
U.S., Thai, Japanese and Singaporean units who participated
in Operation Unified Assistance and improve our ability to
respond to future disasters.


15. (C) Besides dealing with the tsunami aftermath, Prime
Minister Thaksin's biggest domestic challenge is the
unsettled security situation in the far southern part of the
country. Southern Thailand, and 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, 2004
witnessed a dramatic increase in the level of violence, with
over 500 people killed either by militants or by security
forces. Local Muslim separatist militants have attacked
symbols of Thai and Buddhist authority, and there continue to
be almost daily incidents of violence, notably even after the
tsunami disaster of December 26. Attacks most often involve

isolated shootings of local officials, although increasingly
sophisticated bombing attacks have become more common. While
there is no credible evidence of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) or
al-Qaeda direction of the violence, there is concern that
they might attempt to exploit the local violence for their
own purposes.

16. (C) Thaksin has recently acknowledged that the problem
in Thailand's south is not simply the work of criminal gangs
as he once declared, and is an issue that potentially reaches
beyond Thailand's borders. Last December, Thaksin claimed
publicly during a radio address that Thai militants are
training in Malaysia and that Indonesian extremists are
instigating some of the violence. This rather clumsy public
assertion offended the two fellow ASEAN governments. Thaksin
is not likely to ask for direct U.S. assistance as the RTG
maintains -- as do we -- that the southern situation is
primarily a domestic issue. Until recently, this violence
was directed primarily at RTG institutions with no evidence
of attacks directed towards foreign interests. On April 3,
however, simultaneous bombs exploded outside a French-owned
Carrefour supermarket in Songkla's Hat Yai City and at the
Hat Yai airport, killing two persons and injuring two
American citizens. Thai officials may ask you for U.S.
equipment and technology such as UAVs to support efforts to
monitor militant movements in the south. We recommend you be
receptive but noncommittal, and suggest that technical
experts follow up. You may also wish to point to our plans
to improve human rights training for Thai soldiers and
officers who will rotate to the south. We are working with
U.S. experts to develop a multi-faceted training program to
educate enlisted soldiers, mid-level officers and senior Thai
leadership. It would be prudent to keep in mind that Thaksin
-- and most Thais -- are sensitive about any perception that
the U.S. wants to establish a security presence in the south.
Outrageous but widely circulated rumors that the U.S. has
fomented violence in the South also need to be considered
when discussing offers of possible U.S. assistance. In your
meetings, you may wish to:

--Seek your interlocutor's assessment of the situation in the
south and to ask what the Thai strategy is to bring the
situation under control;
--Point out our desire that any Thai security response be
conducted while respecting international human rights norms
and explain the negative consequences associated with
incidents like Tak Bai.


17. (C) Thailand dispatched two deployments to Iraq as part
of OIF. In December 2003, two Thai soldiers were killed by a
car bomb while on duty in Karbala. Thailand's second
six-month deployment of 443 medics and engineers to Iraq
ended on September 20, 2004. While participation in OIF has
not caused the domestic furor in Thailand that it has in
other countries, Thaksin's critics have used Thailand's
deployments to Iraq against him. Several RTG officials have
told us that Thailand's deployments have been used by
militants to stir up dissent in the Muslim south. Recently,
CJCS General Myers sent a letter to General Chaisit asking
Thailand to consider sending staff officers to man the OIF
Multinational Headquarters. It would be appropriate for you
to ask your interlocutors how they intend to answer General
Myers' request. Similarly, during your meetings with senior
Thai officials, you may wish to:

--Express appreciation for Thailand's previous deployments to
Afghanistan and Iraq;
--Explain that the Administration hopes Thailand will
consider a follow-on deployment in support of OIF;
--Assure RTG leaders that U.S. military experts will help
them shape the deployment.


18. (C) PACOM J2 tried to implement an Intelligence
Modernization Program with the Royal Thai Armed Forces during
the past year. However, the Thai military intelligence
community stiff-armed the offer, primarily on the
questionable grounds that the individual services do not want
or need to be part of the joint approach offered by USPACOM.
This helps illustrate a problem the Thai military -- and the
Thai Government -- has in dealing with the southern
insurgency, i.e., excessive stovepiping of information and
insufficient sharing within the Armed Forces or with other
agencies. While our bilateral intel relationship is good, it
can be improved, especially at the military-to-military
level. USARPAC has been at the forefront of conducting
valuable intelligence related subject matter expert exchanges
for many years. In discussing intelligence matters with your
interlocutors, you may wish to:

--Underscore lessons the U.S. Government has learned about
intelligence cooperation and the necessity to link
intelligence together from the military services, Joint
Commands, and other Agencies.
--Emphasize that your G2, in coordination with the PACOM J2,
will continue to work the RTA and joint pieces of
intelligence modernization with the Royal Thai Armed Forces.

19. (U) We look forward to seeing you. Best wishes, and
have a safe journey.