US troops train in Philippines despite president’s rhetoric


AFP

MANILA–Filipino and U.S. troops began training exercises this week, the Philippines military said on Wednesday, despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s threats to end joint war games and force U.S. soldiers and Marines out of his country as he edges closer to Beijing. Duterte has called for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from his country and has branded U.S. President Barack Obama a “son of a whore” in response to international criticism of Duterte’s deadly war on illegal narcotics. He also announced an end to joint war games after an amphibious exercise involving several hundred U.S. and Filipino marines finished last month. However, on Wednesday, military spokesmen told AFP about an ongoing month-long joint training exercise involving about 30 or 40 Filipino solders and an unspecified number of U.S. Special Forces. “This is a very small bilateral activity,” Filipino military spokesman Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla said, referring to the exercise that kicked off on Monday on the island of Palawan in the west of the archipelago. Philippine Army spokesman Colonel Benjamin Hao earlier told reporters that the exercise was intended “to test the basic war fighting skills of our soldiers, (and) to improve the relationship of both armed forces.” Duterte has made no secret of his hostility for the U.S., calling for U.S. Special Forces to leave the troubled Mindanao region, where they currently train Philippine soldiers in counter-terrorism. He has also threatened to scrap a defense pact intended to counter Chinese expansion in the South China Sea as he courts Beijing for aid and investment. Duterte’s war on drugs has seen more than 4,000 people killed, with the United Nations, European Union and rights groups raising concerns about alleged extrajudicial killings and a breakdown in the rule of law.

Duterte has insisted that he is not doing anything illegal, but added that he would be “happy to slaughter” three million drug users.