BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand and the United States on Tuesday hosted the opening ceremony for the annual Cobra Gold military exercise, the biggest activity of its type in the Asia-Pacific region with 29 nations taking part as participants or observers.

Seven nations in addition to Thailand and the United States are active participants: Singapore, Japan, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea. About 4,500 U.S. personnel, on land and sea, are taking part.

The acting head of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Thailand, Peter Haymond, said at the ceremony in the northern Thai province of Phitsanulok that the aim of the exercise, first held in 1982, is to strengthen cooperation and inter-operability.

There are three major components of the exercise, which ends Feb. 22: military field training, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief training. Its goals include "enhancing maritime security, preventing and mitigating emerging disease threats, and responding to large-scale natural disasters," a U.S. statement said.

The ceremony was attended by Thai Chief of Defense Forces Gen. Pornpipat Benyasri and the commander of the U.S. Army First Corps, Lt. Gen. Gary J. Volesky, representing the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

"We have witnessed that this Thai-American initiative has become a significant milestone of military collaboration that has expanded to the regional level," a statement issued by the exercise quoted Pornpipat as saying.

"I believe that not only has Cobra Gold served as a platform for understanding and working together in the region, but has now become beneficial for our other strategic partners," he said.

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