File photo courtesy of Exercise Balikatan FB Page @exercisebalikatan
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This year’s RP-US shoulder-to-shoulder exercise or “Balikatan” (BK19) kicked off Monday in Palawan and some areas of Luzon to strengthen interoperability to conduct joint operations on territorial defense, counterterrorism, disaster response, and humanitarian assistance.

Captain Jason Ramon, spokesperson of the Public Affairs Office (PAO) of the Western Command (WESCOM) said BK19′ April 1-12 stint in the province will focus on shared counterterrorism training and a staff exchange (STAFEX) among Filipino and US soldiers.

“Nag-start na ‘yong STAFEX. ‘Yong sa amin dito sa WESCOM is more sa STAFEX… academics and joint mission planning ito based sa mga scenarios. Merong Army, Marines, Navy both sides hanggang April 12,” he said.

Ramon said WESCOM’s focus is only the STAFEX but there will be combined counterterrorism interoperability activities on April 8-10 that will also be based on scenarios.

The counterterrorism training exercise is a full Balikatan activity that will be participated in by special operations units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the United States Military (USM).

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“Meron din counterterrorism pero hindi namin siya activity [ng WESCOM]… part siya ng Balikatan, ‘yong counterterrorism exercise na mga special operations units lang ni AFP at saka US, combined interoperability event din,” Ramon told Palawan News in a phone interview.

Balikatan is a regular exercise between the Philippines and the United States with the participation of Australia.

Earlier, the AFP said 4,000 Filipino soldiers, an estimated 3,500 US troops, and 50 from the Australian Defense Force (ADF) will participate in the Balikatan.

This year’s Philippine contingent to the joint exercise will be led by Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay. (with a report from Aira Genesa Magdayao)

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