Australia, Japan forces join Balikatan 2017

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Australian and Japanese military forces will be involved in this year’s Balikatan Exercise, the Philippine military announced Monday, as it holds scaled down drills with its treaty ally, the US.

Lt. Gen. Oscar Lactao, the Philippine side exercise director, said that Australian forces would be involved in some special operations while military personnel from Japan would participate in the humanitarian exercises.

“For the Australian Armed Forces, they will participate in some special operations and bilateral exercises, and for the Japanese it’s more of HADR,” Lactao said.

This year’s Balikatan Exercise features drills in humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and counterterrorism, an apparent scale down of the yearly military engagement between the two countries.

Evidence pointing to some strain on the military alliance of the two countries came after it was announced that the two sides would not hold Philippine Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHIBLEX) and Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) this year.

PHIBLEX participants engage in live-fire events and training for amphibious landing while CARAT is an annual naval exercise of the US with nine other countries including the Philippines.

In a press conference, Lactao admitted that “political authorities” decided on the humanitarian and disaster relief focus of this year’s military exercise.

He said that based on the guidance coming from Philippine political leaders, the focus of this year’s drills should be humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and counterterrorism.

“This exercise scenario is being done by both countries. Of course, we get the guidance from political authorities. So, the political authorities give the guidance to us on the priority at this point in time. The priority according to the president is HADR (humanitarian assistance, disaster relief) and counterterrorism,” Lactao said

The 2017 Balikatan Exercise has 2,800 Filipino soldiers and 2,600 US participants. Eighty military personnel will come from Australia while 20 from Japan will join the drills.

Military contingents from some Southeast Asian countries are observing the bilateral exercise.

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