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Philippines, US launch smaller military exercises

10 May 2017

From the previous war games geared towards maritime security and territorial defense, this year's Balikatan shifts to disaster preparedness and fighting terrorism.

Duterte ordered these changes after US President Barack Obama criticised the death toll incurred from the Philippine's War on Drugs, with Duterte saying that he planned to eventually end the drills as he saw little benefit for his country's troops.

Last year, more than 10,000 participants joined the military exercise, which for years included live-fire exercises and amphibious landing exercises.

They will involve 2,600 American soldiers and 2,800 Filipino troops compared to a total of 12,000 in the 2015 edition of Balikatan.

There will also be no focus on boosting the Philippines' maritime defence capabilities, which in previous years had been widely seen as a show of strength against Beijing over competing claims in the South China Sea.

Despite Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte's insistent announcements that he wants to stop the joint military exercises with the United States in the country, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will open this year's exercises with US Armed Forces in a simple ceremony at Camp Aguinaldo in Manila tomorrow. "We hope it gets bigger", Nicholson told reporters.

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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.

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

Balikatan changes annually and 2018's exercise could be larger or smaller, Nicholson said.

AFP Central Command chief Lt. Gen. Oscar Lactao, Balikatan exercise director on the Philippine side, said, there is an exercising scenario that a super typhoon hits the Philippines and the armed forces will respond. Small contingents from Japan and Australia are also participating as observers this year.

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

Lactao said under the Balikatan Exercises agreement, there will be a command post exercise at Camp Aguinaldo, humanitarian assistance trainings in Visayas, and bilateral events all over the country.

Philippines, US launch smaller military exercises