French-led attack drills in Guam halted

Exercise involving also Japanese, British and US forces postponed after craft runs aground

GUAM • A French-led amphibious force, including contingents from Japan, Britain and the United States, postponed its first joint beach attack drills in the Western Pacific yesterday after a landing craft ran aground, commanders said.

The military exercise in Guam, which included US troops, as well as British and Japanese helicopters and landing craft launched from France's amphibious Mistral carrier, had been meant as a show of force to counter China's growing military power in the region. However, the halt to training yesterday could blunt that message.

"It further builds our partnerships in the region to provide a reasonable assurance to those who may not agree with us too much that we are ready at all times," Captain Jeff Grimes, the US Navy's chief of staff in the region, said on the beach where the practice landings were meant to have taken place.

The drills were to practise amphibious landings, sending in forces by helicopter and urban patrols.

The exercise was halted after a French landing craft ran aground, damaging one of its propellers, Capt Grimes said.

A separate helicopter landing drill was also cancelled, a spokesman for Japan's Self-Defence Forces said later.

China is extending its influence beyond its coastal waters and the South China Sea into the Pacific by acquiring aircraft carriers.

France controls several islands in the Pacific, including New Caledonia and French Polynesia.

France is seeking stronger economic ties with Beijing but, along with Britain, is also looking to balance China's expanding power by deepening security cooperation with Japan, Asia's second-strongest naval power after China, and the US.

The Mistral is leading the Jeanne d'Arc amphibious task force in a tour through Asia.

The French Defence Ministry, in a summary of the mission, described it as "a potent support to French diplomacy".

The Mistral, which left France in February, can carry up to 35 helicopters and four landing barges, as well as several hundred soldiers. The ship visited Japan this month before heading to Guam.

Guam is located some 2,400km south of Tokyo. On Guam's west for about the same distance is Manila, capital of the Philippines.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2017, with the headline 'French-led attack drills in Guam halted'. Print Edition | Subscribe