The massive Balikatan military exercise in the Philippines may have ended, but a small number of Marines are staying in the country.
About 80 Marines from the III Marine Expeditionary Brigade are part of a small U.S. military force that will remain in the Philippines on a rotational basis, said Maj. Christopher Logan, a spokesman for Marine Corps Forces, Pacific.
"This team will support increased operations, activities, and actions in the region and will enhance our combined C2 capabilities," Logan said in an email to Marine Corps Times. "By improving our combined command and control, we will better enable future defense cooperation and further enhance the Armed Forces of the Philippines' capability development."
The Marines are not expected to have a combat role in the Philippines.
"For security reasons we will not go into detail or speculate on future operations, activities, or actions," Logan said.
The III MEB has a longstanding relationship with its Philippine counterparts from exercises and real-world humanitarian and disaster relief operations, Logan said.
"We continue to work with our Philippine counterparts on the best way forward with this rotational coordination element to include its size and composition," he said. "All decisions concerning these rotations will continue to be deliberate and carefully measured."
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced on Thursday that the Marines would operate out of Camp Aguinaldo as part of a new effort to partner U.S. troops with the Philippine armed forces. Both nations are also expected to conduct joint patrols in the South China Sea just as China has announced plans to build on the Scarborough Shoal, which is roughly 145 miles west of the Philippines.
In April 2014, the U.S. and Philippines signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which allows U.S. troops to operate out of specific Philippine military bases, which remain property of the Philippines, said Cmdr. Dave Benham, a spokesman for U.S. Pacific Command. Those bases include Antonio Bautista Air Base, Basa Air Base, Fort Magsaysay, Lumbia Airbase and Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base.
"U.S. troops in the country are covered under the provision of the VFA [Visiting Forces Agreement] and are present only at the invitation of the Government of the Philippines," Benham said in an email. "The United States continues to access other AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] installations through routine security cooperation activities, exercises, and visits under the aegis of our long-standing Mutual Defense Treaty alliance."
This year's Balikatan exercise wrapped up on Friday. It involved about 5,000 U.S. troops, 3,500 Philippine troops and about 80 Australian service members.
"All of us being here today demonstrates an ironclad commitment to each other, and our respective peoples," Lt. Gen. John Toolan, the commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, said in an April 4 news release. "Today, we truly stand side-by-side."