On August 1 and 2, 2019, while U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo was attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministerial Meetings in Bangkok, Thailand, several small bombs detonated throughout the city. One of the bombs detonated near the 77-story King Power Mahanakhon skyscraper where Secretary Pompeo was delivering his remarks. While the explosions did not disrupt the event, the danger to the Secretary and all those attending the ASEAN Ministerial was marked.
Police recorded nine incidents of small improvised explosive devices – dubbed “ping-pong bombs” due to their size – and 10 incidents involving incendiary improvised explosive devices at several locations in Bangkok and neighboring Nonthaburi Province. Targeted sites included a commuter train station, the side of a busy road near the King Power Mahanakhon skyscraper, and Royal Thai Police Headquarters.
Royal Thai Police responded immediately. More than half of the officers from the response team, as well as the deputy commander of the Special Operations Division who led the investigation, had been trained in explosives incident countermeasures by the U.S. Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) program. Soon after the attacks, police arrested two suspects.
Established by Congress in 1983, the ATA program is the premier counterterrorism training and equipment provider for specialized police units in foreign partner nations. Funded by the State Department’s Counterterrorism Bureau and implemented on the ground by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the ATA program has evolved into a key pillar of the U.S. counterterrorism strategy, partnering with 154 nations to train and equip law enforcement partners. Their actions have undoubtedly saved lives, including in Thailand.
“The ATA program in Thailand began in 1994 and has been a huge success. Many of our colleagues in the Royal Thai Police have participated in ATA training, which has helped our office develop the great relationship we share today,” said Christopher Baltz, an Assistant Regional Security Officer at U.S. Embassy Bangkok.
Baltz, who manages the ATA program in Thailand, said that ATA has had a longstanding partnership with the Thai law enforcement community. ATA plans to expand its cooperation with the Royal Thai Police in 2020 by introducing new bomb-tech and cyber investigation programs. “This new initiative will create a safer environment for Thai citizens and the 1.2 million Americans who visit Thailand each year,” Baltz added.
About the Author: George Luczko is a Program Manager for East Asia and the Pacific, Office of Antiterrorism Assistance, Diplomatic Security Service.
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