U.S. and Philippine Marines participating in last year's PHIBLEX drills land on a beach on the island of Luzon in amphibious-assault vehicles.

U.S. and Philippine Marines participating in last year's PHIBLEX drills land on a beach on the island of Luzon in amphibious-assault vehicles. (Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes)

Marines, sailors and Filipino troops began counterterrorism and disaster-response drills Monday in the Philippines, the U.S. Embassy in Manila said.

The Kamandag “Cooperation of Warriors of the Sea” exercise is being held for the first time this year, the embassy said in a statement.

Kamandag was established after firebrand Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte — at odds with America and Europe over his crackdown on drug dealers last year — called for U.S. special operators to leave Mindanao Island and advocated scrapping future war games with U.S. forces.

However, the special operators have remained to help Filipinos battle Islamic militants, and a scaled-down version of the annual Balikatan exercise between the U.S. and Philippines went ahead in May.

Kamandag replaces PHIBLEX, an annual amphibious-landing exercise that involved 1,500 U.S. troops and 500 Filipino servicemembers last year.

Nine hundred Marines and sailors are participating in this year’s event at training areas and bases on the island of Luzon, said Molly Koscina, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Manila.

Training locations include Colonel Ernesto Ravina Air Base, Basa Air Base, Fort Magsaysay, Marine Barracks Gregorio Lim, the Naval Education and Training Command and Subic Bay, she said.

It’s unclear how close the exercise will be to what went on during PHIBLEX, when Marines assaulted beaches in armored vehicles.

However, Koscina said: “Part of the training incorporates surface movements from ship to shore for the sake of developing counterterrorism and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts capabilities.”

Kamandag involves Marines and sailors from the Okinawa-based 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade and will run through Oct. 11, an embassy statement said.

The exercise will increase overall U.S. and Philippine readiness, improve bilateral responsiveness to crises in the region, and further reinforce our illustrious decades-long alliance,” the statement said.

In the lead-up to the exercise, Philippines and U.S. forces completed bilateral humanitarian and civic-assistance projects at schools earlier this month in Casiguran, Aurora, the statement said.

“The goal of KAMANDAG is to increase counterterrorism capabilities through bilateral military exchanges between the [Armed Forces of the Philippines] and U.S. forces focused on enhancing counterterrorism capabilities, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities, and performing humanitarian and civic assistance projects,” the statement said.

Servicememebers will practice combat lifesaving, shipboard mass casualty response, live-fire training, urban operations, movement ashore, and humanitarian assistance and disaster response, the statement said.

Twitter: @SethRobson1

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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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