U.S. Marines and the Philippine Marine Corps stormed a beach facing the South China Sea in a joint military drill on Friday about 150 miles east of Scarborough Shoal, a disputed chain of reefs and islands currently occupied by China.
The Daily Mail reported around 300 troops participated in the drill, which was part of an annual joint exercise between the U.S. and Philippines called KAMANDAG.
Troops can be seen disembarking amphibious assault vehicles, sprinting up the beach, taking up positions, and practicing with chemical agent detectors in photos published by the Daily Mail.
This year’s sixth-annual KAMANDAG – an acronym for “Cooperation of the Warriors of the Sea” – involves 1,900 U.S. Marines and 530 Philippine Marines, according to the U.S. Marine Corps.
For the first time, it also involves 100 South Korean marines and about 30 members of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade.
“Resolute Dragon and KAMANDAG are important opportunities to bolster the defensive capabilities of our alliances with Japan and the Philippines through realistic combined training,” Maj. Gen. Jay Bargeron, 3rd Marine Division Commanding General, said in a statement. “These exercises will allow our forces to strengthen interoperability and readiness to ensure we are prepared to rapidly respond to crisis throughout the Indo-Pacific.”
KAMANDAG is focused on training the Philippine Marine Corps’ Marine Amphibious Ready Unit for “special operations, coastal defense capability, HADR [post-disaster humanitarian] operations, and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear operations,” according to Philippine state news.
The Marine Amphibious Ready Unit is a “rapid, amphibious, hard-hitting, and joint-ready … coastal maneuver force,” according to a Philippine Marine Corps Facebook post.
The Scarborough Shoal, west of Friday’s landing site, is claimed by both the Philippines and China. China gained effective control over the area in 2012 during an international standoff over Chinese fishing boats.
The KAMANDAG this year comes after Chinese military officials falsely claimed that their forces had driven off a U.S. warship that sailed near the disputed Paracel Islands (also known as the Xisha Islands). The U.S. Navy quickly dispelled the false claims, pointing out that U.S. warships were conducting routine operations in international waters.