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Asia Minute: Military exercises go ahead in Southeast Asia despite COVID-19

Cobra Gold 21: U.S., Royal Thai infantrymen practice close quarters combat
Staff Sgt. David Staten/U.S. Army Pacific Public Affairs
U.S. Army Pfc. Ayden Walk, a rifleman with Bravo Company, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, and two Royal Thai Army soldiers with 1st Infantry Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, practice clearing a room during Close Quarters Combat training, as part of Exercise Cobra Gold 21, in Krabi, Kingdom of Thailand, Aug. 4, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. David Staten)

While Monday was a holiday in Hawaiʻi and around the country, it’s business as usual for the U.S. military. This week, that includes a long-running military exercise in Southeast Asia

Cobra Gold is the name of an annual military exercise involving the United States and Thailand that’s been held since 1982.

Reuters calls it the world’s longest-running multinational military exercise.

It’s been scaled back for the last two years because of concerns about the coronavirus — and this year’s event will still be smaller than pre-pandemic days.

The two-week maneuvers got underway Sunday — and will involve about 2,000 Thai troops and about 1,200 U.S. forces.

In 2019, before the pandemic, about 4,500 Americans took part — that was cut to a little more than 100 in 2020 and about 600 last year.

Military officials say this year’s exercises will focus on training for humanitarian disasters rather than military conflict.

There won’t be any live-fire drills or amphibious landings.

China will be part of the exercises — it’s been part of Cobra Gold since 2014 — with a role limited to humanitarian operations.

A total of 20 countries are involved at different levels of participation — from Australia and Singapore to India, Japan, South Korea and Indonesia.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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