Thailand Harry Harris
US Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the Pacific Command (L), Thailand Chief of Defence Forces General Surapong Suwana-Adth (C) and US Ambassador to Thailand Glyn Davies pose during the opening ceremony of the Asia-Pacific multilateral military exercise known as Cobra Gold, at Sattahip Royal Thai Marine Corps Base in Chonburi, Thailand on 14 February 2017REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

United States Admiral Harry Harris, the most senior officer from US to visit Thailand since a coup in 2014, highlighted on Tuesday, (14 February) the importance of reinstating democracy in Thailand.

Harris, head of US Pacific command, spoke on the launch of the annual Cobra Gold military exercise, the largest military exercise in the Asia-Pacific region comprising of at least 29 countries, who will either participate or observe the war games. He will meet Prayuth Chan-ocha, the leader of the junta later in Bangkok.

"We look forward to Thailand's re-emergence as a flourishing democracy because we need Thailand to be a strong and stable partner. We need Thailand to get back to being the regional and global leader that it always has been," Harris said.

The military drill, which is held annually since 1982, commenced on 14 February and will continue until 24 February. Around 8,300 personnel are participating the exercise.

The US embassy said this year 3,600 US troops will take part in the drills, up from 3,300 that participated last year. In 2014, around 7,000 US personnel were part of the drill.

The Obama administration had reduced the number of personnel to express its displeasure over the state of democracy in the country and put pressure on the Thai junta and had also withheld about $4.7m (£3.7m) in security assistance and military aid.