21:42 GMT +312 December 2018
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    This file photo taken on April 14, 2016 shows US marines walking next to their transport and amphibious vehicles at a temporary camp for the Balikatan joint US-Philippine military exercise at Crow Valley, in Capas town, north of Manila

    US, Philippines Begin Annual Joint Military Drills, on Smaller Scale

    © AFP 2018 / TED ALJIBE
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    On Monday the US and the Philippines kicked off a scaled back version of what might be their last large joint military drills, as President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to terminate the exercises to assert his country’s independence from Washington.

    Over the course of 12 days the two militaries will test their aptitude in terror and disaster scenarios, but officials say there will be no live fire drills, which are designed to shore up maritime security and defense. 

    Only 2,700 US troops will be part of the 5,000 personnel taking part in this year’s drill, a 50 percent drop from last year. Duterte ordered these changes after US President Barack Obama criticised the death toll incurred from the Philippine’s War on Drugs, with Duterte saying that he planned to eventually end the drills as he saw little benefit for his country’s troops.

    "I am serving notice now to the Americans, this will be the last military exercise," the former Davao City mayor said during a trip to Vietnam. Later, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said Duterte was misunderstood and that he was referring to US-Philippines patrols beyond Manila’s territorial waters.

    Referring to a Mutual Defense Treaty signed by the two governments in 1951, Yasay said, "Our agreement, that will be respected and this is what the president clearly meant." 

    The Philippines president called his US counterpart a "son of a whore," for which he later apologized, and admitted that he feigned sickness to avoid an uncomfortable encounter with Obama at the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit.

    US President Donald Trump, however, wished Duterte the best of luck on his drug program during a reportedly pleasant phone call earlier this year.

    Trump even invited Duterte to the White House, in a move that riled human rights activists who claim Duterte wantonly ordered the deaths of drug suspects. 

    The Trump White House responded by saying the invitation was made with the intent to discuss "the importance of the United States-Philippine alliance, which is now headed in a very positive direction."

    One of the directors of this year’s exercise, Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, spoke positively of the curtailed drill saying, “Moving a force in a country like the Philippines … those are skills that are pertinent to any type of military operation … That fits well whether it is a conventional force operation or humanitarian disaster relief,” according to Stars and Stripes.

    He added, "We were told this year it would be HADR (humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and counterterrorism and we have done everything we can to make it the biggest and most meaningful exercise we can."

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    Tags:
    Military Drills, joint drill, Philippines' Armed Forces, US Armed Forces, Donald Trump, Rodrigo Duterte, Philippines, United States
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