KORAT, Thailand — The U.S. military has no plans to base troops in southern Thailand to help the Thai government fight Muslim insurgents there, U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Darryl N. Johnson said Thursday.

Speaking after the closing ceremony of the Cobra Gold exercise, which involved nearly 20,000 U.S., Thai, Singaporean, Filipino and Mongolian soldiers over the past two weeks, Johnson made it clear that, contrary to some media reports, the United States is not seeking a military presence in southern Thailand.

The ambassador indicated he welcomed a question on the topic as a chance to clear up any misperception about the issue. Earlier this month, one of Thailand’s leading newspapers, The Nation, quoted a human-rights activist’s claim that the United States is planning to base troops in Thailand as part of the war on terror.

“There is not now, nor has there ever been, any plan to base U.S. forces in the southern part of Thailand. I would state that very categorically. Our presence here is always at the invitation of our Thai hosts,” Johnson said.

The U.S. government sees no benefit from inserting itself into something Thailand is able to handle on its own, he said.

“We are confident that the Thai government has the means, ability and interest in dealing with this issue,” he added.

Johnson told senior officers from the participating nations at the Cobra Gold closing ceremony, that the exercise met its objective of providing forces with realistic command post and field training.

“For the U.S. Pacific Command, Cobra Gold remains our signature multilateral exercise in the Asia-Pacific region,” he said.

The United States hopes the transparent nature of Cobra Gold will serve as a regional confidence-building measure and give observer delegations and visiting attachés a better understanding of how militaries from participating nations train for combined operations, Johnson said.

“In today’s world, the U.S. military and its friends and allies are called upon to respond to a number of different crises simultaneously,” he said. For example, Thai engineering equipment was sent to Bagram, Afghanistan, last year as part of Operation Enduring Freedom to help rebuild the Afghan airport.

The same equipment next went to Karbala, Iraq, for use in humanitarian projects by the Thai task force there. The militaries participating in Cobra Gold understand they must train and equip forces to defend their nations’ security from a range of threats, including terrorists targeting state officials and infrastructure, Johnson said.

“Despite the ongoing demands of U.S.-led combat operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. still brought sufficient forces to Cobra Gold to conduct combined operations to address a complex contingency scenario. Cobra Gold … stands as a mark of U.S. commitment to regional stability in Southeast Asia,” the ambassador said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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