https://sputniknews.com/military/201904121074087671-us-philippine-troops-practice-thwarting-island-invasion/Despite a warning coming from China not to start any trouble at the South China Sea (SCS), the United States yesterday maintained it would continue its operations there under international laws.
“The United States will fly, sail and operate everywhere international law allows. That’s it. I wish we had a longer statement for you, that’s the simple truth,” Lt Gen Eric Smith, commander of the Japan-based US 3rd Marine Expeditionary Forces, said at a news briefing after the Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) war drills’ closing ceremony at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.
The US made the stand after Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Beijing was hoping that “nonregional forces” would refrain from “stirring up trouble” within the contested South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).
Lu was asked about recent exercises conducted by Philippine Navy ships and Washington’s USS Wasp near the Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal in line with the annual Balikatan war games.
Smith noted that the US would continue its operations even after the warning made by China.
Lt Gen Gilbert Gapay, commander of the military’s Southern Luzon Command and the Balikatan director for the Philippines, said the presence of US forces in the West Philippine Sea was part of the yearly war exercises.
Gapay added that for Balikatan 2019, there was an “increase” when it came to the participation of several countries.
According to him, there was a 30% jump in personnel and
6% in equipment use.
“The presence is not really to agitate or anything else, but purely for training, so nobody should be alarmed of the presence of all those forces during the Balikatan,” Gapay said in a news briefing.
This year, Washington incorporated for the first time its F-35B Lightning 2 plane on board the USS Wasp for the Balikatan war games.
From humanitarian assistance disaster relief, the 2019 Balikatan military exercises focused on maritime security and counter-terrorism operations, which included drills on amphibious landing and live-fire training.
“We brought everything we could bring because our partnership with the Philippines is so good. This is a partnership and a mutually respectful, beneficial partnership, so I brought everything I can because I get so much out of this training,” Smith said.
Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief, said Manila had always been “respective” when it came to actions coming from foreign nations.
“We are all undertaking respective independent actions, we have a good rapport here,” Madrigal told reporters.
“Of course, what we want is continued freedom of navigation within the areas we are covering,” he said.
‘Very Realistic': US, Philippines Troops Practice Thwarting Island Invasion
© US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Isaiah Campbell
MILITARY & INTELLIGENCE
23:35 12.04.2019Get short URL
Troops from the US and the Philippines recently conducted their first joint airfield seizure drill, practicing a real world situation in which a foreign power attempts to capture one of Manila's islands in the South China Sea.
The drill, part of the annual Balikatan exercises, was carried out on Lubang Island, one of the largest isles that make up the Lubang island group in the Philippines' Occidental Mindoro province.
"If they [Filipinos] were to have any small islands taken over by a foreign military, this is definitely a dress rehearsal that can be used in the future," Major Christopher Bolz, a US Army special forces company commander who took part in planning for the exercises, told Channel News Asia.
"I think the scenario is very realistic, especially for an island nation such as the Philippines."
Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Pondanera, commander of the exercise control group with the Armed Forces of the Philippines Special Operations Command (AFP-SOCOM), told the outlet that military officials called for an invasion scenario for the 2019 drills after realizing during a review that "this is one of the [training] gaps" felt by Philippines forces.
"The Armed Forces of the Philippines must be ready to any eventualities," he said.
This year's exercises come at a time when China has been increasingly demonstrating its dominance in the disputed South China Sea, building aggressively on its territorial claims there, though most are disputed and international law has found no basis to Beijing's claims of ownership.
Most recently, the Philippine government issued a statement condemning the presence of a large number of Chinese vessels near its Thitu Island. Although the island has been administered as part of the Philippines' Kalayaan municipality since June 1978, China, Taiwan and Vietnam claim it as their own. The island is the second largest of the naturally-occuring Spratly Islands.
Government officials noted that between January and March 2019, more than 200 Chinese vessels were spotted near the contested island, a tactic described by the Philippine government as "swarming."
© AP PHOTO / ANDREW HARNIK, POOL
Pompeo WARNS: US Will Defend Philippines Against ‘Armed Attack’ in S China Sea
During its own observations of the region, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative found that at one point, nearly 100 Chinese ships, composed of carriers from the People's Liberation Army-Navy, Coast Guard and fishing ships, were strategically stationed near the disputed island.
Aside from both US and Filipino forces participating in the Balikatan exercises, which kicked off April 1 and concluded April 12, officials of the Australian Defense Force joined in for humanitarian and civic assistance projects, according to a statement from the US Marine Corps.
"The 35th iteration of Exercise Balikatan is aimed at improving both AFP and US Forces' interoperability through trainings that are focused on mutual defense operations and counterterrorism. The goal of such is to enhance both militaries' employment of forces and assistance in the event of crises that threaten the safety and security of the nation," Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay, Philippines exercise director, said in a release.
The 2019 drills also included live-fire training, counterterrorism training and amphibious operations, among others. This year's operations also marked the first time that the troubled F-35 stealth fighter joined in the 12-day training sessions.