PH-US war games also for counterterrorism, anti-insurgency
NUEVA ECIJA, Philippines - The heat was punishing at 35 degrees Celsius and teams of Filipino and American troops were under the sun in Fort Magsaysay shooting targets 500 meters to 2 kilometers away. Little balls of sweat ran down the face of US Army Major Joseph Weinburgh when he joined the media to talk about the war games.
"One of the things we learned is not to take the Pacific weather for granted. We’re based in Hawaii and we’re also a Pacific Island but just the exposure to heat has been the Number One training lesson," said the officer coming from the Hawaii-based 20th Infantry Battalion.
It wasn't normal weather even for the Filipino troops. The province has been registering the highest temperature in the country.
It was the 3rd day of war games and both camps were satisfied with the results. Filipino soldier Sergeant Antonio Seberre said they learned a lot of good tactics especially in avoiding a crossfire or troops accidentally shooting at each other in the field.
"We learned movement techniques to avoid a crossfire. All our movements should be synchronized. It happens in the field, especially when we can't hear each other because of the shooting," he said.
Internal threats remain
Balikatan, which literally means shoulder to shoulder, refers to war games held annually between the Philippines and treaty ally United States. (READ: PH, US troops begin war games near disputed waters)
The exercises in Fort Magsaysay had nothing to do with maritime security, the focus of this year's exercises. It's the concern of the navies. But the armies continue to train because although they have been reduced, internal threats remain, said Captain Mark Anthony Ruelos, spokesperson of the Fort Magsaysay-based 7th Infantry Division. (READ: PH military grappling with insurgency amid China tension)
The US commander of the Joint-Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) Colonel Robert McDowell said the situation in Mindanao has improved greatly.
"The mission that we were helping the Philippine Army do with counterterrorism has greatly improved since the beginning. But we have many people in the southern Philippines who are lawless. They want to bring harm to the Philippines and to the people of the Philippines. That still creates a problem down there."
US cooperation with the Philippines, he said, is the "most succesful foreign internal defense counterterrorist operations that we’ve had the pleasure to be a part of" and it will continue "as long as the Philippine government wishes us to participate," he added.
The armies in Fort Magsaysay were training on close quarter battle, long range target shooting, and jungle survival, among others. The goal was to improve the interoperability between the two militaries. Should the need arise, they know how to fight together.
"I have been nothing but impressed with how they performed. Not only with the difficult scenario and difficult terrain. In terms of tactics and with the heat, they did extremely well," Weinburgh said.
There was another thing he realized. "The biggest cultural lesson is how much we’re the same. We listen to the same music. We generally eat the same food. It’s been an absolutely positive experience," Weinburgh said.
How the newly-signed Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) will be implemented remains to be seen. It paves the way for increased presence of US troops, enables them to preposition defense and disaster equipment in the country, and allows them to build military facilities inside bases. – Rappler.com