By Russell ShimookaJuly 5, 2012
Pranburi, Thailand--Trainers from the Asia Pacific Counter Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Fusion Center helped prepare soldiers from the Royal Thai Army for future deployment to the southern provinces of Thailand where a guerrilla war has raged for years.
The training was part of Bilateral Army Exercise 12, a continuation of ongoing efforts by U.S. Army Pacific engaging with the Royal Thai Army on peace support training capacity and stability operations.
Thailand has been a staunch ally of the United States in the Asia Pacific region, and the exercise further strengthens that enduring military relationship. BAE 12 was from May 22 to July 6, 2012. The counter IED portion took place June 26 - July 5.
Counter IED instruction consisted of IED awareness, dismounted and mounted operations in an IED environment, and a display that afforded Thai Soldiers to view inert devices that they may one day encounter while on deployment down south.
"We're not going to make counter IED experts in the few days of training, but I've witnessed Thai Soldiers grasp the information and incorporate into their own tactics, techniques, and procedures," said Richard Bell, lead instructor for the center.
Bell said his team also conducted a train the trainer course with hand selected Thai Army explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) personnel, who later served as assistant instructors during the exercise.
"By teaching these EOD guys first, who already know how to handle explosives, we are creating an enduring capability that they will in the future, trained their own Soldiers and we just advise and assist," said Bell
One of those assistant instructors was Master Sgt. Sanchai Kongim, a five year veteran of the southern conflict who said he's lucky to be alive.
"A few years ago my team responded to an initial blast in Yala [province] and we parked our vehicle right over a secondary device. There must have been a malfunction because it never detonated. I'm given a second chance so now I will help other Soldiers stay alive," said Kongim.
The counter IED training is real and relevant said Maj. Gen. William Beard, Deputy Commanding General for Reserve Affairs, U.S. Army Pacific.
"The Royal Thai Army is dealing with this threat every day down south, so they are interested in what we're doing. The training they received is cutting edge; the latest and greatest information and techniques that will increase a Soldier's survivability," said Beard.
The use of IEDs in and around the southern border between Thailand and Malaysia is common practice. According to published reports, Muslim separatists and terrorists tied to the al Qaeda network have stepped up the use of the deadly devices making what was once a low intensity conflict into something more dangerous.
In May, the Thai Army deployed five thousand additional troops to the region.
As the counter IED exercise kicked off, the Bangkok Post reported eight Thai Soldiers from the 11th Ranger Regiment were wounded when the bus they were riding in was hit by an IED in Narathiwat, another provincial hotspot. Six civilians were also injured in the blast.
Published reports say since hostilities between the government and separatists renewed in 2004, more than five thousand have been killed, making the counter IED training for these national Soldiers a wanted commodity.
"We want this training, we need this training from the Americans," said Capt. Pramuan Kongsakpaiboon, who lost his military academy classmate to an IED four years ago.
Bell adds, "These guys are like peacekeepers down there. They don't hunt down the enemy, they provide security so kids can go to school and moms can go grocery shopping. The IED threat is enormous, so if we can pass along what we know, what we've learned from our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan that helps mitigate the threat, that will make their jobs easier and they can get back home safe."