More US troops join 2018 Balikatan

US Philippines launch largest military drills under Duterte

US, Filipino troops to conduct joint drills

About 8,000 combined USA and Philippine troops will take part in Balikatan 2018, along with a small contingent from the Australian and Japanese armed forces.

Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff, and Lt. Gen. Emmanuel B. Salamat, AFP Northern Luzon Command (NoLCom) Chief who is also the Exercise Director on the Philippine for this year's Balikatan, will join high-ranking defense and military officials from both the United States and Philippines at the opening rites.

Salamat was one of the officials who led the formal opening of the biggest military exercises between the two countries that would involve 8,000 Filipino and American troops.

Lt. Liezl Vidallon, BK2018 public affairs director on the Philippine side, said yesterday that this year's joint military exercises will not only focus responding to natural calamities but also man-made emergencies.

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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.

Nicholson's Filipino counterpart, Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Salamat, sidestepped the issue while highlighting the need to improve the capabilities of Filipino forces to fight terrorism.

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

According to the US Ambassador to the Philippines, Suna Kim, a model will be a military operation previous year in the city of Marawi (Philippines), which was conducted over 5 months.

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"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.

The US and Australia have pledged to provide more training and assistance to Filipino troops, who struggled in Marawi's urban battleground after decades fighting low-intensity rural-based communist and Muslim insurgencies.

"We don't have official declaration that we do not want [the media] to cover the exercises". "You can cover all the exercises, including the amphibious exercises except those that are restricted areas that require security [clearance]", he added.

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