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Despite violent unrest in Thailand, U.S. troops remain in place for Cobra Gold exercise

Jan. 21, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Navy Ensign Kevin Beasley explains the helm console Feb. 15 to Royal Thai Navy Lt. Cherdsak Khanthom in the pilot house aboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Tortuga (LSD 46) during exercise Cobra Gold in 2013.
Navy Ensign Kevin Beasley explains the helm console Feb. 15 to Royal Thai Navy Lt. Cherdsak Khanthom in the pilot house aboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Tortuga (LSD 46) during exercise Cobra Gold in 2013. (MCS3 Gregory A. Harden II / Navy)
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About 5,000 U.S. troops are forging ahead with a multinational military exercise in Thailand despite widespread disorder in the capital, Bangkok, where officials declared a state of emergency Tuesday after anti-government protests and violent attacks spread throughout the city.

Known as Cobra Gold, the exercise began Friday in Thailand’s Phitsanulok province, about 230 miles north of Bangkok. It’s Asia’s largest military exercise, which brings together troops from Singapore, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the U.S. This year, China also is participating as an observing nation.

The U.S. contingent includes personnel from the Marine Corps, Army and Navy.

Chuck Little, a spokesman for Marine Corps Forces Pacific, said that so far no changes have been made to the exercise, which is scheduled to run through Feb. 22. But U.S. officials will be watching what happens in Bangkok and beyond, he said.

“Safety of U.S. forces participating in exercises is always a concern,” Little said, “so we will continue to monitor the situation.”

The Thai government declared a state of emergency after an eruption of violent attacks in Bangkok, including drive-by shootings and daytime grenade strikes at busy traffic intersections. It will remain in effect for 60 days and greatly expand local security forces’ authority to search, arrest and detain civilians.

Protesters are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra They want an appointed government to take over and implement reforms against corruption. To appease the protesters, the prime minister called for new elections next month, but few believe she will hold them.

U.S. troops occasionally find their work interrupted by domestic or international affairs. Last April, for instance, about 1,400 Marines, soldiers and sailors were sent home from Morocco at the outset of exercise African Lion when the country’s leaders took exception to the Obama administration placement of United Nations human rights monitors in the disputed Western Sahara territory.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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