Philippines, US begin smaller-scale joint military exercises

Philippines, US begin smaller-scale joint military exercises

The 12-day exercise won't include the usual live-fire exercises geared toward territorial defense or maritime security, officials said.

This year's Balikatan Exercise features drills in humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and counterterrorism, an apparent scale down of the yearly military engagement between the two countries.

"I think despite the fact that there is not a large-scale conventional force portion of Balikatan this year, the counterterrorism is legitimate, it's real, it's something we are doing together and I think the continued training at that is beneficial for both of our nations", said U.S. Marine Lieutenant General Lawrence Nicholson, the exercise co-director.

Up to 2,800 Filipino soldiers and 2,600 American soldiers are participating in the exercises. In previous years this had been widely seen as a show of strength against Beijing over competing claims in the South China Sea.

One of the major exercises this year will simulate a response to a major storm hitting the eastern Philippines, then cutting across heavily populated areas of the country including Manila.

PH-US Balikatan exercises kick off

"We heed to the intentions of the president", Sayson said.

His Filipino counterpart, Lt. Gen. Oscar Lactao, said the exercise priority was chosen based on the guidance from Duterte.

The Philippines and United States launched annual military exercises in Manila on Monday but the longtime allies scaled them down in line with President Rodrigo Duterte's pivot to China and Russian Federation.

In a joint press conference held on Monday (May 8) at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, shortly after the opening ceremonies of the Balikatan held at the AFP Commissioned Officers Club (AFP), Lt. Gen. Oscar Lactao and Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, Balikatan exercise director of the Philippines and the USA, respectively, said that despite the scaling down of the exercises, the scenarios are equally important to them.

This year's exercises will focus on disaster response and counter-terrorism training.

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Participating US troops for this year's Balikatan are placed at 2,600 personnel, with the Philippine side fielding in 2,800.

"I am serving notice now to the Americans, this will be the last military exercise", the former Davao City mayor said during a trip to Vietnam.

Australian and Japanese military forces will be involved in this year's Balikatan Exercise, the Philippine military announced Monday, as it holds scaled down drills with its treaty ally, the US.

It's a privilege for US forces to train with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Nicholson added.

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