U.S. and Philippines Stage War Games

REUTERS | APRIL 25, 2012

U.S. and Philippine commandos waded ashore on Wednesday in a mock assault to retake a small island in energy-rich waters disputed with China, part of a drill involving thousands of troops Beijing had said would raise the risk of armed conflict.

The exercises, part of annual U.S.-Philippine war games on the southwestern island of Palawan, coincide with another standoff between Chinese and Philippine vessels near Scarborough Shoal in a different part of the South China Sea.

China has territorial disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan across the South China Sea, each searching for gas and oil while building up their navies and military alliances.

China said last week the drill would raise the risk of confrontation. On Wednesday, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai said China was committed to dialogue and diplomacy to resolve the dispute.

“We are certainly worried about the South China Sea issue,” Cui told a news briefing in Beijing, saying “some people tried to mix two unrelated things, territorial sovereignty and freedom of navigation”.

The comments come before high-level talks with the Obama administration. China, which claims the South China Sea based on historical records, has sought to resolve disputes bilaterally but its neighbors worry over what some see as growing Chinese assertiveness in its claims in the region.

“Location (of the drill) is irrelevant,” Ensign Bryan Mitchell, spokesman for the U.S. Marines, told reporters.

“These exercises take place on a regular basis. This year it happens to be in Palawan. The planning for this took place months ago prior to any events that are currently in the headlines.”

U.S. President Barack Obama has sought to reassure regional allies that Washington would serve as a counterbalance to China in the South China Sea, part of his campaign to “pivot” U.S. foreign policy towards Asia after wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Philippine military officials sought to play down the exercise. Lieutenant General Juancho Sabban, military commander for the western Philippines, said the drill “simply means we want to work together, improve our skills”.

Sabban’s area of command includes Reed Bank and the Spratlys, a group of 250 mostly uninhabitable islets spread over 427,350 sq km (165,000 sq miles) west of Palawan.

The Spratlys are claimed entirely by China, Taiwan and Vietnam and in part by Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.

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Iran begins naval drills in Strait of Hormuz

Al-Jazeera
December 26, 2011

Iran’s navy has started a 10-day drill in international waters near the strategic oil route that passes through the Strait of Hormuz.

The exercises, dubbed “Velayat 90”, could bring Iranian ships into proximity with United States Navy vessels in the area. “Velayat” is a Persian word for “supremacy” and it is currently used as a title of deference for the Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The war games cover a 2,000km stretch of sea off the Strait of Hormuz, northern parts of the Indian Ocean and into the Gulf of Aden, near the entrance to the Red Sea, state television reported.

The drill will be Iran’s latest show of strength in the face of mounting international criticism over its controversial nuclear programme, which the West fears is aimed at developing atomic weapons. Tehran denies those charges, insisting the program is for peaceful purposes only.

Adm Habibollah Sayyari, the navy chief, said Iran is holding the drill to show off its prowess and defense capabilities.

“To show off its might, the navy needs to be present in international waters. It’s necessary to demonstrate the navy’s defense capabilities,” state TV quoted Sayyari as saying.

Sayyari said submarines, surface-to-sea missile systems, missile-launching vessels, torpedoes and drones will be employed in the maneuvers.

Strategic waterway

The Strait of Hormuz is of strategic significance as the passageway for about a third of the world’s oil tanker traffic. Beyond it lie vast bodies of water, including the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

The US Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet is also active in the area, as are warships of several other countries that patrol for pirates there.

Iran regularly holds war games and has also been active in fighting piracy. Both the US and Israel have not ruled out a military option against Iran over its nuclear program.

Iranian hard-liners have come out with occasional threats that Tehran would seal off the key waterway if the US or Israel moved against the country’s nuclear facilities.

Iranian authorities have given no indication the strait will be closed during the exercise, and it has not been shut during previous drills.

The US, Britain and Canada announced new measures against Iran’s energy and financial sectors last month and the European Union is considering a ban, already in place in the US, on imports of Iranian oil.