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U.S. and Philippine troops together will storm and secure urban buildings, treat the sick and practice crisis management while building cooperation during the 2003 Balikatan training exercise starting Friday.

The two-week exercise is one of a dozen or so annual joint exercises between the two countries. It also bears a resemblance — in name only — to a contentious operation planned for later this year.

Balikatan is a Tagalog word meaning “shoulder to shoulder” or “shouldering the load together.” The exercise starting Friday is officially called Balikatan 03.

Its cousin is Balikatan 03-1, a longer-term counterterrorism operation expected to start later this year in the southern Philippines.

The similarity between the two is causing some confusion, something organizers of the current Balikatan hope to avoid.

“This is where we do pure planning,” said Lt. Cmdr. Don Dizon, with the Joint United States Military Assistance Group in Manila. “It’s no different than [the] Cobra Gold” exercise in Thailand or the Marine Interoperability Exercise held in February, he said.

The Balikatan 03-1 exercise is a long-term counterterrorism operation that last year wiped out a component of the Abu Sayyaf rebel group on Basilan island near Zamboanga City, U.S. commanders said.

For six months, 1,300 U.S. forces advised Philippine troops fighting rebels and helped restore order to Basilan. Civil affairs units improved infrastructure and held medical clinics.

A similar long-term counterterrorism exercise was set to begin this month, but some Philippine leaders opposed what they believed were U.S. plans to actively fight rebels, in addition to advising. The Philippine Constitution outlaws foreign combatants on Philippine soil.

U.S. military leaders called the fracas a misunderstanding and revised the exercise. Leaders from both nations are currently planning the details.

Regardless of the counterterrorism Balikatan, the training exercise starting Friday was expected to go on no matter what, said officials with the exercise Combined Joint Information Bureau at Clark Air Base in Luzon.

This week’s exercise is the 19th Balikatan since 1985 and consists of two concurrent parts: a command exercise to practice crisis action and peace enforcement planning; and field training to practice artillery and other combat maneuvers.

“The big thing is the interoperability,” said Army Col. Mathias R. Velasco, also with the Joint United States Military Assistance Group in Manila.

Servicemembers from both nations will orchestrate exercises to improve planning and operations, as well as civil affairs and equipment maintenance, Velasco said.

U.S. forces also will hold civil assistance projects to offer medical treatment to people and animals and to repair infrastructure.

Balikatan 03 is planned for three military installations on the central island of Luzon: Clark Air Base, a former U.S. facility; Fort Magsaysay; and Ternate.

This weekend, participants are expected to practice urban warfare techniques called Military Operations in Urban Terrain, teaching them to secure an urban building or house, according to organizers.

Participants include Marines from the 3rd Marine Division, 3rd Force Service Support Group and Marine Aircraft Group 36 from Okinawa.

Army participants are from two units in Hawaii: Battery C, 2nd Battalion, 11th Field Artillery and Civil-Military Operations Task Force. Other commands will assist.


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