CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The mayors of two municipalities hosting U.S. military bases on Okinawa are adamant that the U.S. Marines move air operations somewhere other than Okinawa.
Responding to a report by the Overseas Basing Commission in Washington over the weekend, the mayors of Kadena and Ginowan said Monday they oppose moving Marine assets at the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to nearby Kadena Air Base.
The move was one of several recommendations by the panel Congress appointed to study the basing of U.S. forces overseas.
Some 18,000 Marines now are based on Okinawa. Instead of reducing that number, the commission stated Okinawa is too important to regional security, that “diminishing our combat capability on the island would pose great risk to our national interests in the region.”
Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha said he was disappointed with the recommendation, “especially since the report disclosed that U.S. and Japanese governments have been considering moving 3rd Marine Expeditionary Forces headquarters and maximum of 8,000 Marines outside of Okinawa.”
MCAS Futenma lies in the middle of heavily developed Ginowan. Iha has been pushing for its immediate closure ever since the Aug. 13 crash of a Marine helicopter on the grounds of neighboring Okinawa International University.
In 1996 the United States and Japan agreed to close some bases, including MCAS Futenma, but only if an alternate site for Marine air operations could be located elsewhere on Okinawa. But a new air station to be built near Henoko won’t be ready for 10 years or more.
“To protect the lives and property of our citizens, we will continue to urge both governments to move Futenma, which is regarded as the world’s most dangerous air station, not just outside Okinawa, but outside Japan,” Iha said.
Kadena Mayor Tokujitsu Miyagi said the three towns surrounding Kadena Air Base — Kadena, Okinawa City and Chatan — formed a committee to oppose moving the Marines there when such a move first was considered in 1996. “Our stance remains unchanged to this day,” he said.
U.S. officials say no agreements have been made to abandon the Henoko project or substantially reduce the number of Marines stationed on Okinawa.
An official statement issued Monday by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo said all options remain on the table.
“We are not in a position to make any comment on the content of the report,” MOFA stated. “However, individual facilities are presently being examined from the standpoint of maintaining the deterrence power of U.S. Forces Japan as well as reducing the burden (of the U.S. bases) on the local communities.”