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Thai military maneuvers to stay on top

King's Guard secures senior positions as junta tightens grip on power

Gen. Apirat Kongsompong, left, walks with U.S. Army General Robert B. Brown, chief commander of the U.S. Army Pacific, during a visit to the 31st Infantry Regiment, the King's Guard, in central Thailand in June.   © Reuters

BANGKOK -- Shortly after he was appointed Thailand's army chief last September, Gen. Chalermchai Sitthisart made a priority of visiting all the regiments in a force of 335,000 active-duty troops. It helped drum up the image of an approachable army commander, military insiders said at the time. But military analysts read more into Chalermchai's visits: They were to establish his authority as a stabilizer in an army known for splits between politically powerful factions and military graduating-class loyalties.

It appears to have paid off. Charlemchai, who hails from the smaller, less influential special forces troops, was just given another year as commander of the Thai army. His two-year term marks a shift in power within the army -- now a relevant barometer of Thailand's political future, since the ruling military regime, which grabbed power in the May 2014 coup, has shackled all political parties. Chalermchai's extension was part of the annual military reshuffle list released in September, revealing the promotions of 990 senior officers in a top-heavy military with an estimated 1,750 generals. The U.S. military, by contrast, has just over 880 flag officers.

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