US, Filipino troops start drills near disputed sea

By the Associated Press | April 16, 2012 | 1:46 AM EDT

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — U.S. and Philippine military officials say nearly 7,000 American and Filipino troops have begun two weeks of major military exercises but they stress that China is not an imaginary target.

Philippine army Maj. Emmanuel Garcia said Monday that the annual drills, called Balikatan or shoulder-to-shoulder, will include combat maneuvers involving the mock retaking by U.S.-backed Filipino troops of an oil rig supposedly seized by terrorists near the South China Sea.

U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Curtis Hill says most other events will focus on humanitarian missions and disaster-response drills.

Beijing has protested military drills involving Americans near the South China Sea, where it is locked with the Philippines and four other nations in territorial rifts.