PACOM suspends official U.S. military trips to Thailand
Official U.S. military trips to Thailand have been suspended under a Pacific Command order following the government takeover in that country Tuesday by Thai military forces in Bangkok.
Pacific Command froze all temporary duty in Thailand and issued an advisory for personnel planning to visit on leave.
“With the current state of emergency in Thailand, the Joint U.S. Military Assistance Group, Thailand, has requested that all temporary duty be suspended until further notice,” an advisory issued Thursday stated.
Military personnel who were in Thailand on orders were recalled, officials said.
The change doesn’t affect travel plans for servicemembers and civilians on leave, but the advisory came with a word of warning:
“While there has been no violence at this time, all DOD personnel should exercise caution if traveling in Thailand … [A]void all political demonstrations and rallies and other mass gatherings, and … limit exposure to government and military installations.”
Commands in Japan were reminding personnel that they must follow pre-existing PACOM procedures before going on leave to Thailand or anywhere else in the region. Among those procedures is completing an individual force protection plan that lists where people will be traveling — to be used by commands in an emergency — and identifies places of safety in the event the travelers need help.
Pacific Command also requires personnel to get approval from an O-5 in their chain of command to visit Thailand.
U.S. Army Pacific took the warning a step further Thursday by requiring personnel to get permission from the commanding general before traveling to Thailand.
According to a USARPAC advisory, “until further notice, [U.S. Army Pacific] is the approving authority for all travel to Thailand for all military personnel and civilian personnel on official duty.”
By Friday, the other services in Japan had not issued restrictions in addition to those of Pacific Command, according to spokesmen from the services.
Adm. William Fallon, head of U.S. Pacific Command, told reporters in Washington on Friday that he finds the events in Thailand “disturbing,” because he is concerned that the coup might set back long-standing military relations with Bangkok.
Fallon recalled the U.S. military’s experience with Indonesia’s military, the TNI.
The U.S. government cut off relationships with the TNI in 1999, after its involvement in alleged massacres in East Timor, and only began normalizing military-to-military contact earlier this year.
The U.S. government began withholding most training and equipping assistance from the TNI after East Timor voted for independence in September 1999, and the TNI and militia proxies responded by razing the province.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Bush administration began asking Congress to exempt certain kinds of military assistance, such as “anti-terrorist” training and equipment, from the ban.
After the tsunami disaster of December 2004, the administration accelerated the pace toward normalized relations, the bans on Indonesia’s participation in its International Military Education Training and certain kinds of military equipment sales were lifted earlier this year.
The TNI’s “behaviors have changed; lots of have things have occurred,” Fallon said. “We’re trying to rebuild those relationships.”
Nevertheless, “We have a long way to go, a lot of distrust that we have to overcome. The potential for that [happening] in Thailand is unsettling.”
No changes have been made to plans for the 40 exercises the U.S. military holds with Thai forces each year, and U.S. personnel in Thailand, including about 100 with JUSMAG, have not been evacuated.
“It’s too soon to tell how the situation in Thailand will affect many things, exercises being one of them,” said PACOM spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Jason Salata.
Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs, said Thursday that the United States was reviewing its aid to Thailand, given the potential illegality of a military government overthrowing one that is democratically elected.
Meanwhile, the state department issued a public announcement for travel to Thailand: “Given the fluidity of the current situation, the Department of State advises all American citizens in Thailand to continue to monitor events closely, to avoid government installations and any large public gatherings and to exercise discretion when moving about.”
Americans in the country are advised to register with the embassy or consulate general in person or at: https://travelregistration.state.gov
Stripes reporter Lisa Burgess contributed to this report from the Pentagon.