US-Philippine war games open under China-leaning Duterte

Philippine military exercise director Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Salamat, left, and US Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, commander of the 3rd US marine expeditionary force, unfurl the joint US-Philippines military exercise flag at a ceremony in Manila on Monday, May 7. (AFP)
Updated 07 May 2018
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US-Philippine war games open under China-leaning Duterte

MANILA: The US and Philippine militaries launched major exercises Monday aimed at fighting global terrorism, while staying mostly quiet on Beijing’s reported installation of missiles in the disputed South China Sea.
The annual maneuvers are the second to be held under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has set aside long-simmering friction over competing claims to the waters in order to court Chinese trade and investment.
The 12-day exercises began less than a week after US network CNBC reported that the Chinese military had over the past month installed anti-ship and air-to-air defenses on islands also claimed by the Philippines.
“This exercise was scheduled whether those missiles were there or not,” US Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson told reporters in Manila.
“The exercises really have very little to do with recent developments in the area,” said Nicholson, the US director of the “Balikatan” (“shoulder-to-shoulder“) maneuvers.
The South China Sea issue has been brewing for years, with Vietnam, Malaysia and others also staking claims to waters with vital global shipping routes and what are believed to be significant oil and natural gas deposits.
Nicholson’s Filipino counterpart, Lt. General Emmanuel Salamat, sidestepped the issue while highlighting the need to improve the capabilities of Filipino forces to fight terrorism.
Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino, had used the exercises to boost the Philippine military’s capability to deter China, which claims most of the South China Sea.
Duterte refocused the joint exercises after he was elected in 2016, steering them toward addressing domestic problems.
Last year Balikatan focused mainly on honing humanitarian responses to the Philippines’ frequent natural disasters.
This year’s terror focus comes after Daesh group supporters seized the southern Philippine city of Marawi in May last year, triggering a five-month battle with US-backed Filipino troops that killed some 1,200 people.
“This is focusing mostly on countering terrorism ... that will allow us to respond to a similar scenario in the future,” Salamat said.
The US and Australia have pledged to provide more training and assistance to Filipino troops, who struggled in Marawi’s urban battleground after decades fighting low-intensity rural-based communist and Muslim insurgencies.
Most of the 5,000 Filipino troops and 3,000 US counterparts taking part in the maneuvers are from special operations units who will train in mock urban terrain to respond to “crises and calamities, either natural or man-made,” Salamat said.
Australia and Japan are also sending a total of 42 military observers to Balikatan, he added.


Pakistan reopens airspace to civil aviation after India standoff

Updated 16 July 2019
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Pakistan reopens airspace to civil aviation after India standoff

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan opened its airspace to civil aviation on Tuesday, following months of restrictions imposed in the wake of a standoff with neighboring India.
“With immediate effect Pakistan airspace is open for all type of civil traffic on published ATS (Air Traffic Service) routes,” according to a so-called Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) published on the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority’s website.
The move by Pakistan, which lies in the middle of a vital aviation corridor, offers a welcome break for international airlines after the airspace restrictions affected hundreds of commercial and cargo flights each day, adding to flight time for passengers and fuel costs for airlines.
India’s ministry of civil aviation said that after the lifting of the NOTAMS, there were no further restrictions on airspace in either country.
“Flights have started using the closed air routes, bringing a significant relief for airlines,” it said.
Pakistan closed its airspace in February after an attack by a Pakistan-based militant group in Indian-controlled Kashmir led to an armed standoff between the two nuclear-armed powers.
Both countries carried out aerial attacks over the other’s territory and warplanes fought a brief dogfight over the skies of the disputed Kashmir region during which an Indian fighter jet was shot down.
Partial operations at Pakistani airports resumed once the immediate crisis passed but restrictions continued to affect many international carriers using Pakistani airspace.
Pakistan’s announcement came hours after United Airlines Holdings Inc. said it was extending the suspension of its flights from the United States to Delhi and Mumbai in India until Oct. 26, citing continued restrictions of Pakistani airspace.