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Philippines and US kick off naval exercises amid China tension

Philippine Marines’ Brigadier General Jesus Caldez (left) and Major General Charlton Sean Gaerlan (centre) of the US Marines unfurl the exercise flag during the opening ceremony of “Kamandag” (cooperation of the warriors of the sea), a joint military exercise between US and Philippine marines at the Philippine marines headquarters in Taguig, suburban Manila on Monday.

The armed forces of the United States and the Philippines launched two weeks of joint naval exercises on Monday, reinforcing a close military alliance at a time of regional uncertainty over tensions between Washington and Beijing.

KAMANDAG, an acronym in Filipino for “Cooperation of the warriors of the sea”, runs until Oct 14, will involve 2,550 American and 530 Filipino troops and include island-based exercises in amphibious landings, live fire and humanitarian assistance.

The Philippines and the United States, which are bound by a 70-year-old Mutual Defence Treaty, have been holding exercises for decades.

Japan and South Korea participated as “observers” in this year’s military exercise, the first time that Tokyo and Seoul have joined the annual drill between Washington and Manila.

The joint drill on Philippine islands, including those facing the South China Sea, took place almost simultaneously with another large-scale US Marines’ exercise in Japan called Resolute Dragon.

“We certainly enjoy our partnerships and alliance with like-minded nations across the Indo-Pacific,” US Rear Adm Derek Trinque told journalists at the opening ceremony.

“And so while it’s always a privilege to work bilaterally with the Philippines, with Japan, with the Republic of Korea, when we can bring our allies and partners together, when we can be part of that, then we wish to do so,” Trinque said.

A total of 3,760 soldiers, the majority American and Filipino, will train on counterterrorism, amphibious operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster response, as well as chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defence.

Of the participants, 30 are members of the Japan Ground-Self Defense Force and 120 are of the Republic of Korea Marine Corps.

US troops and aircraft on board the Tripoli, a US Navy assault ship that docked in Manila on Sept 27, are part of the exercise.

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