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Monday, May 8, 2017, 15:28

Philippines, US begin smaller-scale joint military exercises

By Associated Press

Philippines, US begin smaller-scale joint military exercises
From left to right: Philippine exercise director Lieutenant General Oscar Lactao, US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, Philippine Defence Minister Delfin Lorenzana, Philippine Foreign Affairs Under Secretary Ariel Abadilla, Philippine military chief Eduardo Ano, and US exercise director Lieutenant General Lawrence Nicholson link arms during the opening of the annual Philippines-US military exercise at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, suburban Manila on May 8, 2017. The Philippines and US launched annual military exercises in Manila on May 8 but the longtime allies scaled them down as instructed by President Rodrigo Duterte. (Ted Aljibe / AFP)

MANILA — Philippine and US troops kicked off Monday their annual joint exercises that are smaller in scale than in years past, focusing on disaster response and counterterrorism while excluding territorial defense operations and maritime security.

We recognize the need to work together to overcome the daunting challenges posed by international terror networks; we also understand that bilateral disaster response training can help save lives and help rebuild devastated communities

Sung Kim, US Ambassador
The changes were instructed by President Rodrigo Duterte who has had an antagonistic stance toward US security policies while expanding security ties with China and Russia.

Since taking office in June, he has taken a softer stance than his predecessor on the territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea and has ordered some of the drills scrapped.

Opening rites for the "Balikatan" or "Shoulder-to-Shoulder" exercises were led by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and US Ambassador Sung Kim at the Philippine military's headquarters in metropolitan Manila.

Officials say 5,400 personnel — 2,600 Americans and 2,800 Filipinos — will be involved, or about half of 11,000 troops who took part last year. The two countries are long-time treaty allies and have conducted the yearly training to ensure interoperability of their forces.

This year's exercises will be based on a scenario of troops responding to a super typhoon in the Philippines.

Kim said the exercises address global challenges.

"We recognize the need to work together to overcome the daunting challenges posed by international terror networks; we also understand that bilateral disaster response training can help save lives and help rebuild devastated communities," the ambassador said.

Lorenzana said what has changed in the exercises now is the focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster response and counterterrorism. More resources need to be devoted to such activities because natural calamities are becoming more severe and the world faces challenges posed by violent extremism, he added.

"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 US Marine Lieutenant General Lawrence Nicholson, the exercise co-director.

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

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