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  US, Philippines to jointly patrol South China Sea

US, Philippines to jointly patrol South China Sea

REUTERS
Published : Apr 15, 2016, 2:08 am IST
Updated : Apr 15, 2016, 2:08 am IST

A US-made HIMARS fires at a target during the 11-day joint US-Philippines military exercise at Crow Valley in Tarlac province, north of Manila, on Thursday. (Photo: AP)

A US-made HIMARS fires at a target during the 11-day joint US-Philippines military exercise at Crow Valley in Tarlac province, north of Manila, on Thursday. (Photo: AP)

United States defence secretary Ash Carter said on Thursday that US troops and military equipment would be sent on regular rotations in the Philippines and that the two countries had started joint patrols in the South China Sea. The initiatives are designed so that the United States does not increase its permanent footprint in its former colony, but they demonstrate that the two countries are increasing security cooperation amid joint concerns over China’s actions in the region’s disputed waterways.

Countries across the region have expressed concern over China’s activities, but the broader American military presence was not meant to provoke conflict with the Chinese, Mr Carter said.

“There will be a regular, periodic presence here of American forces,” Mr Carter said at a news briefing in Manila with Philippine defence minister Voltaire Gazmin. “The things that we’re doing here are part of a pattern that goes back decades. They’re by the invitation of an alliance partner.”

Glowing projectiles lit up the Philippine sky from an advanced US long-range missile system on Thursday in war games aimed at boosting their military alliance in the face of an increasingly assertive China. The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) was the star of a simulated assault exercise by 5,500 US and Philippine soldiers, unleashing six missiles at distant targets from a dry riverbed three hours’ drive from Manila.

US Marine Cobra attack helicopters and Philippine S211 jets also buzzed over the Crow Valley training range as Filipino and US troops acted out the capture of imaginary enemy-held territory. The exercises were staged in the shadow of a festering dispute between the poorly equipped US ally and regional giant China over islands, reefs and waters in the resource-rich South China Sea.

“The truth of the matter is we are allies and as allies, we need to work together,” Lieutenant-General John Toolan, the US Marine Corps Pacific commander told reporters, referring to the missile system.

“I think we will be more than happy to share,” he said when asked if the US would deploy HIMARS to the Philippines in the case of armed conflict over the South China Sea.

The system’s range is 300 km, Lt.-Gen. Toolan said, meaning it could hit vessels far from the Philippine landmass.

Location: Philippines, Central Luzon, Capas