Q and A: U.S. general on the continuing relevance of Balikatan
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine and US militaries on Friday, May 19, formally closed the 2017 Balikatan Exercises, an annual activity between two longtime treaty allies bound to defend the other if it sovereignty is threatened.
US Joint Task Force commander Brigadier General John Jansen,who led up to 2,600 US troops who participated in the exercises, spoke with select journalists about the continuing relevance of Balikatan amid adjustments to scale down exercises under President Rodrigo Duterte. (READ: No bells and whistles as US, Philippines hold Balikatan)
Rappler's Carmela Fonbuena joined the media roundtable with Jansen on Tuesday, May 16. Here are excerpts from that discussion.
On the continuing relevance of Balikatan
It’s very relevant. It’s as relevant as the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty. It’s important to realize that the United States doesn’t have a whole lot of allies, people with whom we’ve sat down and crafted an agreement for mutual defense. In the Pacific Command area of responsibility, we only have 5. It’s the biggest area of responsibility in the planet. We only have 5 and the Philippines is one of those countries. We take that obligation seriously.
On focusing the exercises to HADR
Balikatan is the largest exercise that we engage with as Armed Forces of the Philippines and US military annually. That is an expression of the committment of our two nations to each other for mutual defense. How we express that year to year changes. This year we are expressing that through humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR), which we think Mother Nature keeps relevant. We think there is going to be plenty of opportunity to engage sometime in the future in that which we are practing here, our young men and women are practicing here.
On counter-terrorism training
There was an inspirational level of training going on between our yung men and women. They did an air assault – a bunch of young soldiers getting out of a helicopter and going into a landing zone that is near a small town that will simulate a place that would have a terrorist in it. They would practice moving to contact and there are observers there who would be able to tell whether or not they can be seen, how they take up various positions, how do they move in a stealthy way providing security for each other as they move into this town they have set up to practice military operations in urban terrain.
There is another course for combat engineers where there is great exchange of information on how to detect and how to handle improvised explosive devices.
On the maturity of PH-US military cooperation
The realization was the level of sophistication between the two countries really demanded that we both up our games. We were running two different processes for plannning that really just came together for the last second for whatever the exercise's operation was. We realized the level of maturity and sophistication in the shared understanding of doctrine and war fighting necessitated, really demanded, that we merge those two into single unit planning – not for decision making because AFP makes their own decisions.
On further improving cooperation
We needed to go from something that’s very simple where you do your planning and we do ours. It becomes more difficult when you do planning together because all of the challenges are there right way. It’s easier in execution if you do all the complex planning up front. That is upping the game. It’s going to be hard to merge two planning processes. – Rappler.com