USA joint military exercises kick off in Luzon

US Philippines start joint military exercises

USA joint military exercises kick off in Luzon

This year, 3,000 USA troops are expected to join different exercises such as humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) operations, counter-terrorism, and urban warfare among others.

Australia, with whom the Manila has a Status of Visiting Forces (SOFA), also sent 60 soldiers to be part of the event, while the Japan Defense Force sent a 20-man contingent to observe on the exercise.

THE 34th iteration of the two-week "Balikatan" military exercises between American and Filipino troops will formally start Monday, May 7.

Last year, about 2,400 USA troops joined the drills with the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The exercises are "just one of many embodiments of our robust relationship", US Ambassador Sung Kim said.

Duterte's predecessor, Benigno Aquino, had used the exercises to boost the Philippine military's capability to deter China, which claims most of the South China Sea.

Lt. Gen. James Lawrence Nicholson, commanding general, III Marine Expeditionary Forces, and Balikatan exercise director for the United States side, said that the Philippine troops had learned much from the Marawi experience and this was a chance to share some of the successful tactics.

However, Duterte refocused the joint exercises after he was elected in 2016, steering them towards addressing domestic problems.

The annual bilateral exercise, which runs for two weeks and officially began on May 7, would see both American and Filipino troops training for the gaps that have been identified out of the siege of Marawi city past year by combined fighters of the Islamic State and the Maute Group. It took around six months for Philippine troops to liberate the city of Marawi, which is located on the island of Mindanao, from the Islamic militants.

"The bulk of this training will be done in Nueva Ecija, with our special operations forces together with USA special operations forces... to be able to effectively combat future scenarios [where] we can effectively employ necessary tactics, procedures needed in countering terrorism", Salamat said.

"We don't have official declaration that we do not want [the media] to cover the exercises".

The military over the weekend said the amphibious landing exercise of Philippine and United States troops in San Antonio, Zambales would be closed to the media.

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