Japan to end Iraq mission, increase Afghan commitment?

Japan announced Sept. 12 that it plans to end its military airlift mission in Iraq by year’s end. Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said his government is discussing withdrawal Air Self-Defense Force troops deployed in Kuwait for the air support mission, following a request from the Iraqi government had asked for a reduction in the presence of foreign military forces. The move is also a response to the impending December expiration of the UN resolution serving as the legal basis for the deployment.

“After taking into consideration the political and security situations in Iraq as well as progress on reconstruction work, the government decided to start discussing whether the ASDF missions can be terminated within this year,” Machimura said. “The government also will discuss the matter with Iraq, the United States and the United Nations.”

But Defense Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said Japan will shift its priority to Afghanistan, in response to the growing Taliban insurgency. “The importance of operations in Afghanistan has increased,” Hayashi told reporters, giving no further details.

Japanese forces have ferried equipment and foreign troops between Kuwait and Iraq, including to Baghdad, since 2006 in a mission that involves three C-130 transport planes and 210 ASDF members. From 2004 to 2006, Japan deployed 600 Ground Self-Defense Force troops on a noncombatant humanitarian mission in the southern Iraqi city of Samawa—the nation’s first overseas deployment since World War II.

Japanese naval forces still have refueling ships in the Indian Ocean to support American and other vessels involved in the war in Afghanistan. However, the future of this mission is also in question, as the law currently authorizing it comes up for renewal in January. The opposition Democratic Party of Japan, which controls the upper House of Councillors, is against renewal.

The DPJ also opposes renewal of the July 2003 law permitting humanitarian missions in Iraq, which is to expire at the end of July next year. But officials of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party emphasized other reasons for ending the Iraq mission. Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura told reporters: “We believe the objectives of the special law to assist the reconstruction of Iraq have been achieved. We’ll support [Iraqi] reconstruction even after the ASDF’s withdrawal.” LDP secretary general Taro Aso—considered a shoo-in to win the party vote to replace outgoing Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda later this month—said at a press conference, “If you look at the situation in Iraq, you’ll know conditions to pull out ASDF troops are being met.” (Daily Yomiuri, NYT, Sept. 12)

See our last posts on Japan, Iraq and Afghanistan.