34th Balikatan exercise starts
The 34th Balikatan exercise between Filipino and American forces, started with an opening ceremony in Camp Aguinaldo on Monday and will end on May 18.
The ceremony was led by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, United States Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim and attended by Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Koji Haneda, Filipino, American, Japanese and Australian forces.
In his speech, Kim said this year’s Balikatan includes urban warfare training which was “identified in the post-Marawi action reports”.
“This year's Balikatan will not only focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, which are of course very important here in the Philippines, but also will incorporate training identified in the post-Marawi action reports such as military operation in urban terrain,” Kim said.
“Let me take a moment to commend again the incredible work of General Galvez in ending the Marawi siege. It was really deep, honored and privileged to see such great military leadership in an incredibly difficult situation and Marawi showed that we need to work together to overcome the complex challenges we face in today's world. That includes international terror networks as well as natural threats,” he added.
Lorenzana also expressed hope that through the exercises the US and Filipino forces will be able to improve its counter-terrorism capabilities.
“Last year, our focus was on disaster response. This year, Balikatan will focus on interoperability training to address traditional and non-traditional security concerns. Through this exercise, we hope to improve our counter-terrorism capabilities in order to build safer communities and work towards the eradication of global terror networks,” he said.
“We hope that through this activity we will have a stronger teamwork while we endeavour to our common vision of developing long term cooperation and effective interoperability between the Philippines and the United States and our allies,” Lorenzana added.
Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Salamat, Philippine Balikatan exercise director, said most of the exercises will be done in Nueva Ecijia.
“We want our both forces to learn from our great and hard-earned experience in our past battles like the Marawi and I think this is one of the highlight of this year's activity, if you ask for anything new, this is the new innovation that our both forces will have during the exercise period and the bulk of this training will be done in Nueva Ecija with our special operations forces and together with US special operations forces,” he said.
“We just want to help each other to be able to effectively combat future scenarios that will again hopefully we can effectively employ necessary tactics, procedures needed to more enhance our response, actions in countering terrorism and of course the, our action and response during crisis, calamities made, either natural or manmade calamities,” he added.
Lt. Gen. Lowrence Nicholson, Balikatan US exercise director, said this year’s bilateral exercises will be participated by thousands of Filipino and US forces.
“8,000 Marines, sailors, soldiers, airmen from different countries operating together in probably what is the most diverse exercise in the Pacific Command area of responsibility and diverse I mean were doing more different kinds of things over two week period than any other exercise so I think this allows in exercise to demonstrate ever,” he said.
Lt. Liezl Vidallon, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Balikatan public affairs director, said a total of 5,000 Filipino soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors and 3,000 American troops are set to join the exercises.
Vidallon said aside from US and Philippines, the Japan Sell Defense Force also committed 20 troops while the Australian Defense Force has 60 soldiers to participate on Balikatan 2018.
“Their participation is under the ambit of the US alliance system,” she said.
Vidallon said some AFP naval assets that will participate in this year’s Balikatan activities include BRP Ramon Alcaraz and BRP Davao Del Sur.
“Also joining are attack and utility aircrafts including SF260, MG520, FA50, Sokol choppers, and C130. Armored Personnel Carriers such as the Army’s M113 and ARV will also be used in the exercises,” she said.
“The US Armed Forces will utilize various air, marine, army, and naval assets for Balikatan 2018. Among these assets are the C-130H Hercules, C-17 Globe master III, MV-22B Ospreys, and the USNS Sacagawea,” she added.
Vidallon said the activities under this year’s bilateral exercise includes amphibious landing in Zambales, bridging and communication integrationas well as civic actions, which focuses on building schools as well as medical and dental education, and spiritual enhancement activities in selected areas in Cagayan, Isabela, Tarlac, and Cabanatuan City.
She noted some civic action activities started as early as last month. Robina Asido/DMS