PPT noted comments by the Democrat Party that suggest the somewhat desperate leadership appear to be misleadingly denying any connection with the US use of the naval air base at Utapao.
We haven’t been following the debate all that closely since our earlier post, but the opportunistic Democrat Party seems intent on making a yellow-shirt-like ultra-nationalist stand without revealing their own long support of US military use of Utapao.
A search at Cablegate lists 84 cables mentioning Utapao between 2005 and 2010, and all are pretty much the same.
This is a cut-and-paste from a cable dated 28 January 2009 under the name of Ambassador Eric John. PPT has highlighted a couple of things, The cable sets out the use of Thai resources by the US. The basic point is that several governments over this period have all permitted this quite extraordinary situation, including the Democrat Party-led government under Abhisit Vejjajiva.
KEY FORCE PROJECTION OPPORTUNITIES
¶4. (S) The strength of our military relationship with Thailand provides us with benefits rarely achieved in our relations with other regional partners. One such benefit is ready access to many Thai military bases, most notably the Utapao Naval Air Base, built by the U.S. during the Vietnam War. Thailand quietly let the U.S. position aerial refueling assets at Utapao to support air-bridge operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and gave blanket airspace clearance for U.S. combat and support aircraft, some of which could not have made their initial bombing runs into Afghanistan without it. Thailand also permitted the U.S. military use Utapao as the hub for our regional tsunami assistance program in 2004-2005 and for our relief flights to Burma after cyclone Nargis in 2008. While high-profile relief operations have publicly highlighted the value of access to Utapao, our military quietly accesses the air base over 1,000 times per year for flights in support of U.S. operations, including missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
¶5. (S) Moreover, the RTG has granted the U.S. military aircraft use of Utapao for flights on targets of intelligence interest, and we received permission for these operations as a matter of routine, without having to answer questions to the purpose of the flights. It is hard to imagine another Asian nation so easily permitting such operations. While we avoid publicizing our use of Utapao to avoid Thai sensitivities regarding the perception of foreign basing, Utapao and other Thai air fields and seaports remain vital to our force projection objectives in Southeast Asia.
UNIQUE MILITARY EXERCISE PROGRAM
¶6. (C) Thailand affords the U.S. military a platform for exercises unique in Asia. Thailand offers good base infrastructure and large areas in which our aircraft and ground forces can conduct unrestricted operations, including training for electronic warfare. Opportunities to access such training infrastructure are in short supply elsewhere in Asia. Despite thousands of U.S. troops in Japan and Korea, training in those countries is increasingly limited due to physical and political constraints, and efforts to reduce our base footprint in those nations could make access to training facilities in Thailand even more important. 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.
¶7. (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.
¶8. (S/NF) A specific indication of Thai readiness to accommodate USG interests is its repeated willingness to host the Ellipse Charlie counterterrorism exercises – most recently in 2008, but also in 2002 and 2003. That Malaysia and Cambodia were considered as hosts for the 2008 exercise but rejected due to difficulties related to national-level approval and their capacity to host, similar to what occurred in 2003 vis–vis Germany, underscores the ongoing value of the U.S. access in Thailand. These interagency exercises brought together members of FBI, State, special operations personnel, and others to exercise a range of intelligence and hostage rescue activities that likely could not have been conducted elsewhere in Asia (in 2003, lawyers concluded the exercise could not even be held on a U.S. base in Germany). In another example of the unique training opportunity found in Thailand, U.S. and Thai Navy SEALS conduct exercises on Chevron-owned gas and oil platforms in the Gulf of Thailand. Altogether, the U.S. averages over forty multilateral and bilateral exercises per year with Thailand.