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Asia Minute: Thousands of U.S. and Filipino forces will begin their largest joint military drills

Balikatan 2016
Sgt. Deja Borden/20th Public Affairs Detachment
Soldiers of Company A, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, conduct driver operations and mounted platoon maneuvers with counterparts from the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Crow Valley, Philippines on April 6, 2016. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Deja Borden)

When it comes to military conflict, the world’s attention remains fixed on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But the Asia Pacific is still a focus for tensions — and military exercises — including a large one that’s getting underway next week.

The exercises will start next Monday and last for 12 days.

The United States and the Philippines will soon begin the largest military drills they’ve ever held together.

The exercises will include more than 5,000 U.S. military personnel — along with nearly 4,000 forces from the Philippines.

It’s part of a long-running series of drills involving the two countries — called Balikatan — or “shoulder to shoulder” in Tagalog.

It’s also a sign of the times that this is a return to a more involved series of maneuvers — after they’ve been disrupted the last couple of years because of concerns about COVID-19.

The exercise was cancelled two years ago — and scaled back last year.

According to a statement Tuesday from the U.S. Embassy in Manila, U.S. forces will “maintain social distancing and wear face masks during exercises as operationally feasible.”

The same day, the Philippines Department of Health announced that all areas in the country are now considered to be at low risk for the virus.

The exercises will cover a broad range of activities — from live-fire drills and maritime security to counterterrorism, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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