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At least 5,500 US, PH troops to join Balikatan

Filipino and American troops will once again meet in May for the 30th iteration of the PH-US “Balikatan” (shoulder-to-shoulder) Exercises.

Lt. (SG) Annaleah Cazcarro, Combined Joint Information Bureau co-director, said about 2,500 US military personnel and some 3,000 from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will take part in this year’s “Balikatan”.

The exercise, which will formally kick off May 5, is an annual event where the AFP collaborates with its US counterparts to enhance interoperability in sea, air and ground operations.

Cazcarro said this year’s Balikatan will last until May 16.

She added, the exercise areas for this year include Crow Valley in Tarlac, National Education Training Command (NETC) in San Antonio, Zambales, Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija, Puerto Princesa, Palawan and Ternate, Cavite.

Scheduled activities include staff and training exercises for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, combined armed forces live firing exercises in Crow Valley, Tarlac, static aircraft display at Clark Field, Pampanga, and demonstration of maritime surveillance equipment at the NETC.

Civic-military operations are also scheduled to be held in Legazpi, Albay and Tacloban City, Leyte, Cazcarro added.

Last year’s Balikatan exercise had a historic nature with China’s involvement in the annual event.

At the closing ceremony of the exercise in April last year, U.S. exercise director Marine Lt. Gen. Terry G. Robling, commanding general of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific (MARFORPAC), noted that several key Asia-Pacific countries had long participated as observers in the exercise, but China’s presence at the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief tabletop exercise portrayed a new era for the exercise.

For this year, however, there will be no round table discussions and tabletop exercise among the scheduled activities for the Balikatan exercise.