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Fewer US troops won't adversely affect Balikatan exercises in PHL

April 5, 2011 3:01pm
Philippine military officials on Tuesday said this year's joint Balikatan exercises in the country will not suffer a setback even if the number of participating US soldiers has been reduced by half.

A report on GMA News TV's Balitanghali said that of the original 6,000 US soldiers, only 3,000 would be participating in this year's Balikatan exercises because some of the American troops had to be re-assigned to help in relief efforts in quake-hit Japan.

During the kick-off ceremony for the 27th Balikatan at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, Rear Adm. Victor Martir, Balikatan 2011 course director for the Philippines, assured the public that they could still complete the objectives of this year's joint military exercises despite the decrease in the number of participants.

"We could still attain interoperability. We could still check and evaluate our readiness together. It will not affect us in anyway. This is a continuing effort between the Armed Forces of the two countries," he said.

Earlier reports quoted military officials as saying a combined total of around 10,000 troops have been involved in the Balikatan exercises in the past.

Lt. Gen. Francis Wiercinski, Balikatan 2011 course director for the US, told reporters the two countries are actually trying to achieve a feat by focusing their attentions on two activities simultaneously.

"I'd ask you to remember three words: flexibility, capability and commitment because I don't think [anyone] could pull off something like this. Being engaged not only in Japan and disaster relief to help in humanitarian assistance but still here to conduct our Balikatan Exercises," he said.

Also attending Tuesday's ceremony was US Ambassador to Manila Harry Thomas, who also acknowledged that the US had to focus their troop deployment on Japan because it was their "moral obligation" to help their allied nation.

But Thomas pointed out that the Balikatan was specifically created in the first place to extend among others humanitarian assistance during natural calamities like the killer quake that hit Japan last March 11.

"The recent tragedy in Japan reminds us of why Balikatan is so important. It is this kind of training that enables our forces to be effective in responding to natural disasters and other crisis that threaten public health and safety," Thomas said.

A magnitude-9.0 earthquake that hit Japan last month triggered more damaging tsunamis that swept through the eastern part of the island nation, and neighboring nations in the Pacific region. The quake and the tsunami also damaged a nuclear reactor in Japan's Fukushima prefecture, which resulted in the release of radiation in the area.

This year's 10-day joint military exercises will focus on civil military operation events, a joint combined command post exercise, field training exercises and explosive ordnance disposal training, as well as conducting disaster rehabilitation and rural development projects, particularly in Central Luzon.

But aside from these major activities included in the Balikatan exercises, Martir said they would also look into the possibility of earthquake and tsunami response as additional "scenarios" for the exercises. — LBG/RSJ, GMA News

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