"Shouldering the Load Together"
In July 2002, the Republic of the Philippines agreed to host joint military exercises with the United States for 9 months beginning in October 2002, involving what could be the biggest deployment of US troops since the Americans left their bases in Clark and Subic in 1991. The exercises, with 8 battalions totaling 4,000 troops, in Luzon and Mindanao would be the biggest and longest to be undertaken by Filipino and American soldiers. The training of light reaction companies (LRCs) alone would take up to 4 months and 3 months for the battalions. An agreement covering the transfer and storage of supplies and weapons to be used during the war games or similar activities would be concluded before the start of the exercises. Maneuvers would likely be held in an army boot camp north of Manila, as well as in the southern Philippines, possibly including the southern island of Jolo, an Abu Sayyaf stronghold.
More than 450 US service members along with a variety of standard military cargo were offloaded at Subic Bay on 17 April 2003, to take part in Exercise Balikatan 2003. This was the official start date of the exercise. The personnel were transported from Okinawa, Japan, to the Philippines via the High Speed Vessel to make early arrangements before the exercise kicks off. The exercise was designed to better train Philippine and US air, ground and naval forces to handle any contingencies, emergencies or disasters that might arise throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
The exercise was to be conducted in 2 simultaneous phases including a combined command post exercise on crisis planning and execution on an operational level focusing on peace enforcement operations. The second phase was to consist of cross-training, field-training, and humanitarian civil assistance exercises designed to enhance interoperability between Philippine and US forces.
Unlike Balikatan 2002-1, the 2003 exercise was in no way related to the ongoing counterterrorism training in the southern Philippines according to military officials. This was being conducted as part of Operation Enduring Freedom - Philippines (OEF-P).
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