Soldiers from the U.S. and the Philippines joined forces Monday to kick off military exercises intended to strengthen their countries’ partnership and hone combat readiness.
The three-week long exercises, dubbed “Salaknib,” involves more than 3,000 Filippino and U.S. soldiers, Reuters reported. Troops from both nations will participate in multiple small-arms live-fire exercises, artillery and mortar live-fire events, and construction projects, the outlet said.
“Like all Operation Pathways exercises, Salaknib is vital for building joint readiness and increasing interoperability with our regional allies and partners, said 2 IBCT Commander Colonel Graham White ahead of Saturday’s opening ceremony. “The idea is to be ready, so we never have to get ready,” White said of the Salaknib’s aims. (RELATED: China Allegedly Used Laser Against Coast Guard, The Philippines Say)
Most of the army-to-army exercise will take place on the Philippines’ largest military base, Fort Magsaysay, Reuters noted. “The scenarios would involve the defence of the Philippine archipelago from potential foreign aggressors,” the outlet quoted Philippines Army Chief Lieutenant General Romeo Brawner.
The joint drills come on the heels of an agreement between the U.S. and Philippines to allow expansion of U.S. military presence on the island’s military bases. U.S. troops will have access to four more military sites in the Philippines under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, Stars and Stripes reported.
China criticized the exercises, blaming the U.S. for heightened tensions and driving a wedge between China and the Philippines, Reuters reported. The U.S. “also has disturbed and upset the joint effort of countries in this region to safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea,” a Chinese embassy spokesperson said Sunday in Manila.