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US and Philippine forces conduct live fire coastal combat drills

Officials say the military drills are not aimed at any country, despite taking place at a time of tension with China.

United States stealth fighters sped across the sky and missiles slung imaginary enemies into the air in the northern Philippines as two weeks of combat drills involving 2,500 Filipino and US Marines engaged in mock amphibious assaults and other coastal tactics drew to a close .

Live-fire drills in a remote valley north of the capital Manila on Thursday were the culmination of the joint combat readiness maneuver codenamed Kamandag — a Tagalog acronym for “collaboration of the warriors of the sea” — which ends on Friday, military officials said.

The Japanese exercises, held concurrently with combat exercises between U.S. and Japanese forces on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, included another 3,000 military personnel, U.S. Marine Maj. Gen. Jay Bargeron said.

Bargeron said the drills ensured the US was “ready to respond swiftly to crises across the Indo-Pacific.”

The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force said the exercises, dubbed Resolute Dragon 22, were “designed to enhance responsiveness” and help “strengthen a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

The US-Philippines exercises marked the first large-scale military exercise between Washington and Manila under newly elected Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has been an outspoken critic of the US, having threatened to sever ties with Washington and opposed military exercises involving US forces, which he said could offend Beijing.

Shown on Thursday were US HIMARS (High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System) rocket launchers, which recently helped Ukraine gain momentum in its war with Russia, and US F-35B supersonic fighter jets.

The HIMARS, which fires GPS-guided missiles, can hit targets up to 300 km (186 miles) away, US Navy Lt. Col. Kurt Stahl said.

Highly mobile and fast-launching, the HIMARS are difficult for the enemy to detect and, once fired, can quickly change position to evade retaliatory airstrikes, Stahl told the Associated Press news agency.

Stahl echoed comments by Filipino military officials that the joint drills were not aimed at any particular country.

But the combat exercises come at a time when Washington and China have engaged in heated rhetoric over Taiwan’s status and claims to islands and waters in the South China Sea.

US President Joe Biden said US forces would defend Taiwan if Beijing tried to invade the self-governing island, which China has promised to reintegrate into the mainland and has threatened to use force if necessary to its target to reach.

Though China has claimed most of the South China Sea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims on the busy waterway, which is estimated to transport $5 trillion worth of goods each year.

In July, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken asked China to comply with a 2016 arbitration ruling that invalidated Beijing’s sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The ruling was handed down by a tribunal set up under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in The Hague after the Philippine government brought China to arbitration in 2013 over Beijing’s seizure of a shoal off the northwestern Philippines.

China did not participate in the proceedings and called the arbitral award a sham.

Blinken had also warned that Washington would be obliged to defend the Philippines under a 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty if Philippine forces, ships or aircraft were attacked in the disputed waters.

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