Around 8,000 US and Philippine soldiers kicked off joint military drills Monday, the largest held so far under the Asian nation's leader Rodrigo Duterte.
Some 3,000 United States soldiers will join 5,000 Filipino soldiers in the 34th Balikatan Exercise in the Philippines this week amid reports of heightened militarization of artificial islands in South China Sea.
Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, the U.S. director for the "Balikatan" or "shoulder-to-shoulder" drills, told reporters 8,000 Filipino and American soldiers, airmen, marines and sailors were expected to participate in the Balikatan drills. The Philippine side will deploy at least 5,000 soldiers.
The 12-day exercises began less than a week after U.S. network CNBC reported that the Chinese military had over the past month installed anti-ship and air-to-air defenses on islands also claimed by the Philippines.
"Whether those missiles are there or not, this exercise has been long scheduled", said Nicholson.
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It is known that the Australian defence force and the self-defense forces of Japan will also participate in the exercises within the system of alliances, the United States, says WP. "There are constant things developing within the region but the exercise has always been planned", Nicholson told reporters in Manila.
This part of the training will be conducted on the basis of last year's five-month military operation in the Philippine city of Marawi, which was occupied by the Maute militant group linked to Daesh*. "This year, we will also train for man-made disasters like, for example, a chemical attack", she said in broken English.
The exercises will feature amphibious beach landings, live-fire manoeuvres and combat drills in mock urban settings to train special forces in battling terrorists such situations as seen in Marawi city previous year. The volatile leader, who has been critical of USA security policies, has taken steps to revive ties with China that had been strained under his predecessor over longstanding territorial conflicts in the South China Sea.
"We want both our forces to learn from our great and hard-earned experience in our past battles like Marawi", said Marine Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Salamat, who leads the Philippine contingent.
American and Filipino soldiers will participate in an amphibious assault exercise set on the beach of San Antonio, Zambales on Wednesday, said Salamat.