Balikatan 2022: Heightening US-China rivalry and counterinsurgency war

This article is available in PilipinoBisaya

Both the US and the Philippine governments boasted of the Balikatan 2022 as being the “largest” in the last seven years of annual joint exercises between their armed forces. This year’s exercises include aspects aimed at the US’ war preparations against China. There are also features that are geared towards heightening the brutal counterinsurgency war against the Filipino people.

Up to 5,100 American soldiers and 3,800 Filipino troopers are officially participating in the Balikatan 2022 which formally runs from March 28 to April 8. For the first time, the exercises will include the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment (MLR), a team of around 90 personnel whose mission is to prepare an attack against China.

The 3rd MLR was organized just this March 3 at the US Marine Corps Base in Hawaii, USA. According to Marine Corps Assistant Commandant Gen. Eric Smith, the unit will be optimized for conducting expeditionary advance base operations (EABO) and is “specialized to deal with the rising threat of China.”

In US military language, EABO pertains to operations of relatively small and covert, highly mobile and easily movable units deployed to occupy naval or inland territories that are within range of enemy weapons, including missiles. These will serve as forward units to strike on the enemy’s surveillance and weapons systems and support a larger operation.

These units are primarily armed with radar systems and missiles. EABO missions include taking control of seas and shores and denying the enemy the capability to operate in these areas. Their mission also consist of putting up forward positions for arming and refueling, and conducting reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition.

Expectedly, the 3rd MLR took on the major role in the early days of Balikatan 2022 in Cagayan to train for said missions, which included a simulated invasion of the shores of Claveria in the province. In nearby town of Aparri last March 28, US troopers went through with the amphibious landing of the MIM-104 Patriot. This is the first time the US deployed said surface-to-air missile system in the Philippines. At the same time, the US Marines demonstrated their High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems in a live-fire exercise in Capas, Tarlac.

During the Balikatan, the Marine Corps War Fighting Laboratory observed the exercises in order to come up with techniques, tactics and methods for the 3rd MLR. This unit is set to be augmented with up to 2,000 personnel, which will be divided into smaller units comprising 75-100 Marines. The regiment will reportedly join in the next Kamandag and Balikatan exercises, before reaching operating capability in 2023.

Interoperability: US command of the AFP

While the Balikatan intensifies war preparations against China and raises the prospect of war in East Asia, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is dragged into defending US interests. This situation has remained in effect due to Rodrigo Duterte’s refusal to abrogate unequal military treaties with the US.

Under the pretext of “interoperability,” the US military tightens its command and control over the AFP. One of the highlights in the current Balikatan is a “command post operation” in order to supposedly enhance the joint capabilities of both militaries in planning, command and communication. This is no different from the command post operation in January 2015 in Mamasapano, Maguindanao where even generals of the AFP were being ordered around by US soldiers.

The US also makes the AFP drool over arms and military equipment which will be used in the counterinsurgency war and in future wars of the US. The Balikatan is used as an event for the US to showcase surplus war machinery (including the costly F-16) which it intends to sell to the AFP under the Foreign Military Financing which favors American defense corporations.

The US has long been directing the AFP’s counterinsurgency war with the particular aim of using US weaponry, including combat helicopters, jet fighters and bombs in its counterrevolutionary war against the people.

Balikatan 2022: Heightening US-China rivalry and counterinsurgency war