US and Philippines hold combat drills

Military allies: Members of the Philippine, Japanese, South Korean and US Marine carrying their national flags during the opening ceremony of the joint military exercises Kamandag at the Philippine Marine Corps headquarters in Taguig City, Metro Manila. — Reuters

More than 2,500 US and Philippine marines joined combat exercises to be able to respond to any sudden crisis in the region.

The annual military drills are some of the largest so far between the long-time treaty allies under newly elected Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

His predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, had been an outspoken critic of US security policies and frowned on military exercises with American forces he said could offend China.

Called Kamandag the Tagalog acronym for “Cooperation of the Warriors of the Sea” – the drills yesterday involve 1,900 US Marines and more than 600 mostly Philippine counterparts in mock amphibious assaults and special operations, US and Philippine military officials said.

America’s HIMARS missile launchers and supersonic fighter jets will be in live-fire manoeuvres that will end on Oct 14, they said.

The venues include the western island province of Palawan, which faces the South China Sea, and the northern Philippines, across the Luzon Strait from Taiwan.

The military manoeuvres in the Philippines are being held simultaneously with combat exercises between US Marines and Japanese army self-defence forces on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido that involve about 3,000 military personnel from both sides, US military officials said.

US Maj Gen Jay Bargeron of the Japan-based 3rd Marine Division said the simultaneous exercises were aimed at bolstering the defensive capabilities of the US alliances with the Philippines and Japan “through realistic combined training.”

“These exercises will allow our forces to strengthen interoperability and readiness to ensure we are prepared to rapidly respond to crisis throughout the Indo-Pacific,” he said in a statement.

“Our strength, resolve and commitment to our allies and partners in the region are our most effective deterrent,” said US Marine Lt Col Kurt Stahl.

“Together, we can deter potential adversaries from ever testing our capabilities or our relationships.”

In July, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on China to comply with a 2016 arbitration ruling that invalidated Beijing’s vast territorial claims in the South China Sea and warned that Washington is obligated to defend the Philippines under the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defence Treaty if Filipino forces, vessels or aircraft come under attack in the disputed waters.

The ruling was issued by an arbitration tribunal set up in The Hague under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea after the Philippine government complained in 2013 about China’s seizure of a shoal off its northwestern coast.

China did not participate, called the arbitration decision a sham and continues to defy it.

In addition to China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have had overlapping claims in the busy waterway, where an estimated US$5 trillion (RM23 trillion) in goods passes each year and which is believed to be rich in undersea gas and oil deposits. — AP

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