U.S. soldiers cross a creek on Fort Magsaysay during a Salaknib drill in the Philippines, March 23, 2022.

U.S. soldiers cross a creek on Fort Magsaysay during a Salaknib drill in the Philippines, March 23, 2022. (Darbi Colson/U.S. Army)

Thousands of soldiers from the United States and the Philippines began a three-week exercise Monday on the island of Luzon to hone warfighting skills, including jungle operations.

The U.S. Army’s 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division has deployed 1,500 troops from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, to the Philippines for the drills, dubbed Salaknib, according to unit commander Col. Graham White.

They’ll train alongside 1,500 troops from the Philippine army’s 7th infantry Division, he said by phone Sunday from Fort Magsaysay, a training area northeast of Clark Air Base on the Philippines’ main island.

This year’s event runs through April 4 and is the largest in the series of annual drills that the two armies have held since 2016, White said.

The exercise includes small-arms, maneuver, jungle, artillery and mortar training as well as engineering and construction projects.

Salaknib is part of Pacific Pathways, an annual series of exercises across the Indo-Pacific. The Army aims to have combat credible forces west of the International Date Line for eight months of the year, White said.

“The goal is to increase combat readiness, strengthen regional partnership and show U.S. will and resolve,” he said.

Soldiers from the brigade specialize in jungle warfare and train for it on Hawaii, White said.

“No two jungles are the same,” he said. “The Oahu jungle is what’s considered a secondary jungle. The jungle in the Philippines would be quite different to what our soldiers are used to. A different environment, different critters, different temperatures.”

The Philippine government announced last month that it would add four installations to five sites in the islands where U.S. forces will have access under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

“These efforts are especially important as [China] continues to advance its illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters during a Feb. 2 press briefing in Manila.

However, White said Salaknib isn’t focused on any potential adversary and that most of the training is happening at Fort Magsaysay.

The drills will be followed by next months’ annual Balikatan exercise, which involves thousands of U.S. troops from multiple service branches training in the islands alongside their Filipino counterparts.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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