US, Philippines kick off largest-ever joint military drills
Manila, Mar 28 (EFE).- The United States and the Philippines on Monday launched their largest-ever annual joint military exercises in Manila, involving nearly 9,000 soldiers, with the stated aim of strengthening peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific in waters close to Taiwan and islands claimed by China.
Jar Bargeron, the top US military officer at the drills, said during a ceremony at Camp Aguinaldo, the headquarters of the Philippine armed forces, that the joint exercises – set to continue until Apr. 8 – would help bolster the mutual defense military agreement between the two sides and boost coordinated humanitarian aid efforts in the archipelago.
Charlton Gaerlan, the Philippine commander of the drills, hailed the close friendship between the two militaries, and highlighted that this year the drills would include both military simulations and live ammunition training in the north and south of the archipelago.
The exercises would be joined by 5,100 US soldiers and 3,800 Philippine troops, making them the largest joint military drills in history.
This year’s drills come after the 2020 maneuver was cancelled due to Covid-19 and the 2021 event had to be reduced to a few hundred participants.
The 27th edition of the exercises is taking place with a chaotic geopolitical backdrop marked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Philippine government announcing last month that it would allow the US to use former North American bases in the archipelago in case the Ukrainian war spreads to Asia.
Spokespersons of both the militaries have avoided commenting on whether a larger troops presence is linked with the ongoing geopolitical instability and simply stressed the importance of mutual collaboration in the fight against terrorism, response to natural disasters and humanitarian aid work during calamities.
Balikatan 2022, as the exercises are named, also come amid relatively high tensions in South China Sea, where Brunei, China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam claim partial or full sovereignty over a group of islands – most of them unpopulated – that house important reserves of gas and oil as well major fishing grounds. EFE