Philippine, US troops conduct joint exercises

Philippine and US troops on November 16 began their joint training exercises, which will last through December 14.

Philippine Army spokesman Colonel Benjamin Hao said the Balance Piston exercises, which are taking place in a maritime training facility in Puerto Princesa and at a military camp based in Rizal, Palawan , involve around 30-40 Philippine soldiers and an unspecified number of US Special Forces.

Hao said the exercises are based on the Philippine army’s annual programme. The training will focus on "enhancing the war fighting capabilities and interoperability of both the Philippine army's special operations command and the US special operations forces." 

On November 15, Harry Harris, Commander of the US Pacific Command, said there has been no change in anything with the Philippines although President Rodrigo Duterte has voiced willingness to request the withdrawal of American troops from his country.

Mentioning the upcoming high-level meetings between the two countries to schedule joint military exercises for 2017 and after he will attend, Harris said he is optimistic of the meetings, noting there could be a refocusing or a rescoping of some of the bigger exercises in 2017. 

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said last week that the Philippines and the US armed forces will push through with the scheduled joint military manoeuvres this year. 

However, Lorenzana said that the joint exercises planned for next year would be scaled down, adding that the three big exercises would be whittled down to just one. He said that the exercises would focus more on human assistance and disaster response. 

The US and the Philippines traditionally conduct three major joint exercises - Balikatan (or shoulder-to-shoulder), CARAT and PHIBLEX - and 28 minor cross-training exercises every year, including the so-called Passing Exercises between the US and Philippine navies in the East Sea.

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