Japan air force to cover wider areas in Iraq for airlifting

January 12th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Japan air force to cover wider areas in Iraq for airlifting

TOKYO - (AP) Japan has decided to expand its military air mission
in Iraq by allowing airlifting support for U.S. allies at all major airports
in the country, a news report said Thursday.
The reported move comes as Japan prepares for an expected withdrawal
of ground troops from a southern Iraqi city later this year, the national
Yomiuri newspaper reported.
A Defense Agency spokeswoman refused to confirm the report, citing
security reasons.
The change, made in December when Tokyo approved an extension of its
Iraqi mission for another year, would allow Japan's air force to serve at
all 24 major Iraqi airports, up from the 13 already authorized, the Yomiuri
It was not immediately clear, however, what practical effect the
expansion would have, since Japan reportedly severely limits its airlifting
activities because of security concerns.
Japan dispatched troops to Iraq in 2004 in its largest military
mission since the end of World War II. Tokyo currently has about 600
soldiers in the southern Iraqi city of Samawah to purify water and carry out
other humanitarian tasks.
Critics, however, fear the non-combat deployment could draw Japanese
soldiers into the fighting and violate the pacifist constitution. Some in
Japan fear the dispatch has made their country a target for terrorists.
The Yomiuri said the expansion of airlifting support reflected
Japan's intention to maintain a role in Iraqi reconstruction, despite the
expected withdrawal of ground troops.
Tokyo, Washington's top ally in East Asia, has been a staunch
supporter of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Japan's air force has authorization to transport supplies to and
from Baghdad, Balad, Basra, Mosul and Taril and eight other Iraqi airports,
in addition to Kuwait and other regions along the Persian Gulf, to provide
support for the U.S.-led operation in Iraq, the Yomiuri said.
The Defense Agency spokeswoman, speaking on condition of anonymity,
confirmed authorization for only the first five of those airports, refusing
to discuss the others. The Yomiuri said that despite the authorization,
Japan currently only uses Basra and Taril airports because of security
concerns at the others.
The expansion plan will be finalized after the agency thoroughly
studies the facilities and security conditions at all Iraqi airports, the
paper said.
Japan extended its Iraqi ground mission for another year in
December, but speculation is running high that Tokyo will pull the troops
out as the British and Australian soldiers protecting them also withdraw.
Japan is also considering having its Air Self-Defense Forces
transport U.S. and its allies' supplies between Qatar, where the U.S.
Central Command is based, and Kuwait, the Yomiuri said.
The Japanese air force, based at Ali Al Salem Airbase in Kuwait, has
been operating three C-130 transport aircraft for itself as well as other
U.S. allies.
Washington has asked Tokyo to keep its air force airlifting mission
even after Japanese troops withdraw from Samawah, the Yomiuri said.