MILITARY

US, Australian and Philippine forces start combat drills

  • U.S. and Philippine military officers stand at attention during the entrance of the colors at the opening ceremony of the annual joint U.S.-Philippines military exercise dubbed Balikatan 2016 (Shoulder-to-Shoulder) Monday, April 4, 2016 at Camp Aguinaldo, in suburban Quezon city, northeast of Manila, Philippines. The annual military drill, involving 5,000 U.S. personnel and 3,500 counterpart from the Philippines, is being conducted amidst tension in the South China Sea.(AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

    U.S. and Philippine military officers stand at attention during the entrance of the colors at the opening ceremony of the annual joint U.S.-Philippines military exercise dubbed Balikatan 2016 (Shoulder-to-Shoulder) Monday, April 4, 2016 at Camp Aguinaldo, in suburban Quezon city, northeast of Manila, Philippines. The annual military drill, involving 5,000 U.S. personnel and 3,500 counterpart from the Philippines, is being conducted amidst tension in the South China Sea.(AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)  (The Associated Press)

  • Protesters shout slogans as they burn a mock U.S. flag during a rally at the U.S. Embassy in Manila to coincide with the start of the annual joint U.S.-Philippines military exercise, dubbed Balikatan 2016 (Shoulder-to-Shoulder), Monday, April 4, 2016 in Quezon, Philippines. The annual military drill, involving 5,000 U.S. personnel and 3,500 counterpart from the Philippines, is being conducted amidst tension in the South China Sea. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

    Protesters shout slogans as they burn a mock U.S. flag during a rally at the U.S. Embassy in Manila to coincide with the start of the annual joint U.S.-Philippines military exercise, dubbed Balikatan 2016 (Shoulder-to-Shoulder), Monday, April 4, 2016 in Quezon, Philippines. The annual military drill, involving 5,000 U.S. personnel and 3,500 counterpart from the Philippines, is being conducted amidst tension in the South China Sea. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)  (The Associated Press)

  • Protesters shout slogans as they burn a mock U.S. flag during a rally at the U.S. Embassy to coincide with the start of the annual joint U.S.-Philippines military exercise, dubbed Balikatan 2016 (Shoulder-to-Shoulder), Monday, April 4, 2016 in Quezon, Philippines. The annual military drill, involving 5,000 U.S. personnel and 3,500 counterpart from the Philippines, is being conducted amidst tension in the South China Sea. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

    Protesters shout slogans as they burn a mock U.S. flag during a rally at the U.S. Embassy to coincide with the start of the annual joint U.S.-Philippines military exercise, dubbed Balikatan 2016 (Shoulder-to-Shoulder), Monday, April 4, 2016 in Quezon, Philippines. The annual military drill, involving 5,000 U.S. personnel and 3,500 counterpart from the Philippines, is being conducted amidst tension in the South China Sea. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)  (The Associated Press)

Thousands of U.S. and Philippine troops, along with Australian special forces, have begun annual military drills to be able to rapidly respond to a range of potential crises, including in the disputed South China Sea.

U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. John Toolan said Monday that Defense Secretary Ash Carter will fly to the Philippines to witness some of the 11-day Balikatan exercises. The drills will see the deployment for the first time of a highly mobile rocket system that has been used in war zones including Afghanistan.

Philippine military officials say a key exercise will involve U.S., Australian and Philippine forces retaking an oil rig seized by hostile units.

The U.S. and the Philippines say the exercises are not directed against China, which has opposed the drills.