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10 May 2017, 03:04 | Katrina Lee
PH-US Balikatan exercises kick off
American and Philippine forces kicked off a muted version of the annual Balikatan military exercise Monday, just months after the country's leader threatened to scrap the drills following USA criticism of his drug war.
Duterte ordered these changes after US President Barack Obama criticised the death toll incurred from the Philippine's War on Drugs, with Duterte saying that he planned to eventually end the drills as he saw little benefit for his country's troops.
Officials say 5,400 personnel from the both sides will be involved, or about half of 11,000 troops who took part previous year. Since taking office last June, he has taken a softer stance than his predecessor toward territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea and has ordered some of the joint drills scrapped.
"The scope of this year's exercise has changed and HADR and counterterrorism are two critically important areas of concern for both of our nations, for all other nations, so I think there's a lot of work to be done".
THE Philippines and the United States formally opened on Monday the Balikatan, with a United States military official looking forward to its success despite the pruning of activities as wanted by President Duterte.
Duterte also mentioned during his visit to China in October past year that he wanted to chart a more independent foreign policy from Washington.
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The Balikatan (Shoulder to Shoulder in English) exercises started in 2002, with the objective of launching a global campaign against terrorism after the infamous September 11, 2001 terror attack on New York's twin towers. Later, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said Duterte was misunderstood and that he was referring to US-Philippines patrols beyond Manila's territorial waters.
The US and Philippines on Monday began their main annual military exercises with a smaller number of troops than previous years and also limited to anti-terrorist operations and disaster response.
His Filipino counterpart, Lt. Gen. Oscar Lactao, said the exercise priority was chosen based on the guidance from Duterte.
Only two of the military's unified commands will join this year's "Balikatan" exercises with American soldiers.
The focus of the activities in the "Balikatan" (meaning "shoulder-to-shoulder") exercises has also shifted from live-fire manoeuvres to drills involving humanitarian and disaster relief operations.
It's a privilege for USA forces to train with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Nicholson added.
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