Philippines, USA Hold Military Drills

May 10, 2017, 03:01
Philippines, USA Hold Military Drills

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

Last year's exercises were held across the Philippines, with at least one drill staged in waters off Palawan province, just outside the South China Sea.

They are the first under President Rodrigo Duterte.

After this year's launch, the joint military exercise will move to the country's different naval stations in Luzon and the Visayas, including those in Panay, Leyte, Palawan and Samar.

Five thousand personnel, including about 2,700 USA troops - half the number who joined last year's drills - will train to respond to disasters and battle terrorists.

This year's exercises will be based on a scenario of troops responding to a major storm hitting the eastern Philippines, then cutting across the heavily-populated areas of the country, including the capital, Manila.

Unlike the previous Balikatans, this year's bilateral exercise has been scaled down, with its activities only focusing on counterterrorism and humanitarian assistance and disaster response, leaving out its joint sea, air and land military operations aspect.

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"We were told this year it would be HADR [humanitarian assistance and disaster relief] and counterterrorism and we have done everything we can to make it the biggest and most meaningful exercise we can", he said.

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

The changes were instructed by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte who has had an antagonistic stance towards the US' security policies while expanding security ties with China and Russian Federation since taking office in June.

Co-director for this year's joint US-Philippines military exercise dubbed "Balikatan 2017", Lt.Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, gestures at a news conference following the exercise' opening ceremony Monday, May 8, 2017 at Camp Aguinaldo in suburban Quezon city northeast of Manila, Philippines.

"Through the chief of staff, secretary of national defense and of course, the President. and with the success of the opening ceremony, I could see that it will be a very successful exercise", Lactao said.

Australia is the only other country, aside from United States, that has a visiting forces agreement with the Philippines.

"So whether it's during other exercises, whether it's Balikatan, whether it's smaller individual efforts, when we get a chance to train with the AFP that's great for us'" Nicholson said.

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