Australia, Japan troops to participate in PH-US Balikatan drills
Soldiers from Australia and Japan will participate in this year’s PH-US Balikatan exercises that commenced Monday.
Lt. Gen. Oscar Lactao, Balikatan exercise director for the Philippine side, told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo that the Australian forces will join some of the special operations of the drills.
The Japanese will take part in humanitarian assistance and disaster response activities.
About 2,800 Philippine soldiers and 2,600 American troops will participate in this year’s exercises. Eighty soldiers from Australia and 20 from Japan will join them.
“For other countries, they are observers,” Lactao said, referring to the Asean countries joining the Balikatan.
This year, the Balikatan will focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster response unlike in previous years where drills near the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) highlighted live fire drills based on invasion scenarios.
The refocus is in line with President Rodrigo Duterte’s rebalance of the country’s foreign policy. He wants to become less dependent on long-time ally the United States as he develops warmer ties with China and Russia.
“The focus of the guidance that was given to the AFP and the Defense department is humanitarian assistance and counter terrorism, that’s the reason we are focusing on this scenario but that is just the scenario. When you go Balikatan exercise the skill sets are the same but the scenario varies so you really have to practice the skill sets of moving big forces, whether it’s war, whether it’s humanitarian assistance and disaster response, it’s the same. So you really have to do it yearly or more than once a year,” Lactao said. CBB
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