CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The United States will keep the core of its expeditionary force on Okinawa as part of a new agreement with Japan that will see a reduction in the number of Marines on the island, according to the Yomiuri newspaper.
The decision, reported Thursday following U.S.-Japan negotiations in Tokyo, means the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and the command element of the III Marine Expeditionary Force will not be moved to the U.S. territory of Guam or joint bases in the region.
Since last month, the two allies have been reworking a 2006 agreement to shift the Marines elsewhere after years of delay and political turmoil over keeping the Futenma air station operations on the island. The negotiations will likely result in the moving of 8,000 Marines off Okinawa, with about 4,700 going to Guam and thousands more going to joint bases in Australia and the Philippines, as well as U.S. installations in Hawaii.
The realignment plan will leave about 10,000 Marines on Okinawa, the Japan minister of foreign affairs said last month.
That final number will include the 31st MEU, a quick-strike force of about 2,200 Marines and the only unit of its kind in the Pacific.
The other main element, III MEF, is the overarching command for regional Marine forces, including the 31st MEU, air combat operations at Futenma and the air station at Iwakuni, near Hiroshima.
The Marine Corps did not immediately provide the size of the III MEF command element Thursday. The Yomiuri newspaper reported the unit comprises more than 3,000 troops.
The service also declined to comment on the U.S.-Japan decision and said it is not involved in the high-level negotiations on the Okinawa realignment.
Retaining the III MEF command element is the most recent change to a plan the two governments had doggedly pursued for five years despite the resignation of a prime minister, growing opposition on Okinawa and repeated delays.
Other changes in recent weeks have greatly scaled back the redeployment to Guam, which was originally slated to receive about 8,600 Marines and about 9,000 military family members.
The U.S. has instead signed an agreement with Australia to rotate thousands of Marines through a joint base in that country and is pursuing a similar agreement with the Philippines.
But there will be no changes to an unpopular plan to build a new Marine Corps airfield in northern Okinawa to replace the Futenma air station, which sits in the center of a densely populated city in the south, according to the U.S. and Japan.