Cobra Gold military exercise begins in eastern Thailand

Washington’s cold shoulder ends as huge military drills ramp

Okinawa-based troops give their blood for Cobra Gold drills

The vital body fluids - collected during recent donation drives at bases on Japan's southern island prefecture - are intended for USA troops in case of emergencies during the largest multinational military exercise in Southeast Asia that kicked off Tuesday and runs through February 23.

The biggest United States force in years joined an annual military exercise in Thailand on Tuesday despite controversy over the junta's invitation to Myanmar's army, which has been accused of ethnic cleansing. This year's exercise has been marked by Thailand's controversial invitation to Myanmar, where 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled military action that the United Nations has denounced as ethnic cleansing.

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The U.S. ambassador to Thailand said the drills are about exercising the capabilities of the regional forces, and preparing for threats and disasters. "They're not part of the exercises here". However, Myanmar's flag was not flown. But Marine Lt. Col. Christopher Logan, a Pentagon spokesman, said Tuesday that the only Myanmar officer in attendance was a deputy military attache who is an army major.

Burma is the old name for Myanmar before it was changed by the country's previous military government, and is still used by the governments of the United States and several other nations. Senator John McCain, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Associated Press "militaries engaged in ethnic cleansing should not be honing their skills alongside US troops", a reference to accounts of atrocities committed by Myanmar troops.

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"We pre-stage the blood at host nation hospitals because Thailand has a great network that is able to hold and facilitate our blood in the event of an emergency", said U.S. Navy Lt. Nii Adjei Oninku, III Marine Expeditionary Force health service support officer.

The exercise includes humanitarian components, such as evacuation drills, as well as traditional military exercises such as amphibious landings.

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