Filipino and American troops hold jungle combat training in Luzon, as part of the 3-week SALAKNIB joint drills, aimed to enhance tactical interoperability and defense cooperation between the two armies. (MNS photo)

MANILA, Mar 23 (Mabuhay) — A total of 8,900 personnel from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and its United States military counterparts will join this year’s “Balikatan” joint military exercises in various parts of Luzon from March 28 to April 8.

The figure is composed of 3,800 AFP members and 5,100 US military personnel who will train on maritime security, amphibious operations, live-fire training, urban operations, aviation operations, counterterrorism, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

This is so far the largest number of combined personnel of the two militaries in the annual exercise hosted by Manila.

“Exercise Balikatan is a testament to the strength of the Philippines and United States’ security relationship,” AFP exercise director for Balikatan 2022 Maj. Gen. Charlton Sean Gaerlan said in a statement Tuesday.

He added that the experience gained from these exercises complements security cooperation endeavors between Manila and Washington DC and will help to enhance existing mutual security efforts.

The AFP and the US military will also conduct multiple humanitarian and civic assistance projects during this year’s “Balikatan”, including the renovation of four elementary schools, multiple community health engagements, and the exchange of advanced emergency rescue and lifesaving techniques.

These construction projects, health engagements, and community relations events improve local infrastructure, share lifesaving medical skills, and strengthen ties between Philippine communities and Philippine and American military forces.

“During Balikatan, the US military and AFP will train together to expand and advance shared tactics, techniques, and procedures that strengthen our response capabilities and readiness for real-world challenges. The friendship and trust between our forces will enable us to accomplish any mission across the spectrum of military operations,” said Maj. Gen. Jay Bargeron, commander of the US Marine Corps’ 3rd Marine Division.

The exercise also includes a command post exercise which will test the AFP and US forces’ ability to plan, command, and communicate with each other in a simulated environment. This training will bolster the collective security and defensive capabilities of the alliance.

As coronavirus mitigation remains a priority for both nations, US troops will comply with all Covid-19 travel regulations set by the Philippine government and will maintain safe physical distancing and wear face masks during exercises as operationally feasible.

“Balikatan” is a Tagalog term that means “shoulder-to-shoulder” or “sharing the load together,” which characterizes the spirit of the exercise and represents the alliance between the Philippines and the US.

“Balikatan 22 coincides with the 75th anniversary of US-Philippine security cooperation and a shared commitment to promoting peace. Our alliance remains a key source of strength and stability in the Indo-Pacific region,” Bargeron added.

Exercises like “Balikatan” strengthen international partnerships and the participating militaries’ abilities to rapidly respond to crises throughout the Indo-Pacific region.

The United States is proud to participate in this Philippine-led exercise to improve both nations’ capabilities across a wide range of military operations. (MNS)

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