US and Philippine forces begin war exercises in the region facing Taiwan

MANILA, Philippines — Thousands of U.S. and Philippine forces began one of their biggest combat exercises in years on Monday that will include live-fire maneuvers, air assaults, urban warfare and beach landings in a showcase of American firepower in the northern Philippines near the maritime border with Taiwan.

The annual drills, called Balikatan – Tagalog for shoulder to shoulder – will run through April 8 with nearly 9,000 soldiers, navy, marines, air force and army troops, including 5,100 U.S. military personnel, to building longtime treaty allies “capabilities and readiness for real-world challenges,” U.S. and Philippine military officials said.

China will likely frown on the war drills given their relative proximity to Taiwan, which it claims as Chinese territory, but organizers said the drills did not target any particular country.

“The U.S. Army and the Armed Forces of the Philippines will train together to expand and advance shared tactics, techniques, and procedures that enhance our response capabilities and readiness for real-world challenges,” Maj. Gen. Jay said. Bargeron, the 3rd U.S. Marine. general commanding the division. “Our alliance remains a key source of strength and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.”

First held in 1991, the Balikatan drills are rooted in the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which commits the United States and the Philippines to come to each other’s aid in the event of an attack. Allies aim to be strong and fully prepared for any security eventuality as a deterrent against war. “It’s for mutual defense, never for offense,” Philippine military spokesman Col. Ramon Zagala said.

The treaty alliance “formally declares our sense of unity and our determination to defend each other against outside armed attack, so that no potential aggressor may feel that either is alone” , Zagala told The Associated Press.

But the governor of the northern province of Cagayan, where amphibious landings with limited live-fire maneuvers were due to take place this week in the coastal town of Claveria, opposed any joint exercise using gunfire, fearing it would don’t upset China.

“The military consulted me and asked me, but I said that I could not authorize any live fire exercises. Any exercise is acceptable, but with live ammunition,” said Cagayan Governor Manuel Mamba, to the AP by phone: “We have to engage China, but not in a war, because I know Taiwan is a powder keg.”

China, as well as the United States and Taiwan, have expressed interest in investing in Cagayan, which has underdeveloped agriculture and related industries, Mamba said, adding “I’m not pro-China, I’m pro -Cagayan”.

A Philippine military official said the beach landing drills will be held at Claveria without any live-fire training, which will instead be held at Crow Valley, an aircraft firing range in Tarlac province, more south of Cagayan.

The combat drills in the northern Philippines are taking place amid heightened tensions between Taiwan and China. But Zagala said most of the military maneuvers were planned a year ago and did not take into account recurring tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

In what it calls a warning to Taiwan independence supporters and their foreign allies, China has held threatening drills and flown military jets near the island’s airspace, including on 24 February, when Russia began its invasion of Ukraine.

Chinese officials under President Xi Jinping say they are determined to use peaceful means to bring Taiwan, which they claim as Chinese territory, under Beijing’s control. The United States has consistently expressed support for ensuring Taiwan can defend itself, and Chinese military action against the island in the short to medium term is generally seen as a remote possibility.

Major Kurt Stahl of the US Third Marine Division said that while most combat exercises and humanitarian projects will take place in the north of the country, some exercises will be held in the western island province of Palawan, as well as an air defense exercise featuring the United States and the Philippines. fighter jets around the west side of Luzon.

This region faces the disputed South China Sea, where China’s increasingly assertive actions, including the construction of missile-protected island bases to bolster its vast territorial claims, have sparked alarmed protests from from rival claimants like the Philippines and Vietnam, as well as condemnation from the United States. and its Western and Asian allies.

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