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US-Japan plan reportedly would spread Marines across Pacific

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — U.S. Marines based on Okinawa would be spread out across the Pacific as part of a strategic realignment plan now being worked out with Japan, according to anonymous government sources quoted Thursday by the Yomiuri newspaper.

The plan pulls together an agreement made with Australia last year to rotate thousands of Marines through that country and an acknowledgement in February that the U.S. and Japan will relocate 4,700 Okinawa Marines to Guam to create the most comprehensive realignment of the service in the Pacific since World War II.

Top U.S. and Japan officials are still negotiating the relocation of Marine Corps forces here, and some details —such as the fate of the controversial Futenma air station — remain uncertain. The two countries are expected to finalize the realignment plan next month.

On Thursday, the III Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa and the Ministry of Defense said the two governments have not yet made a decision and declined to comment further on the Yomiuri report.

The new force layout would divide Marine command, ground, air and logistics elements into an arc of bases through the region and form a flank along the eastern border of China, according to descriptions by Yomiuri.

Okinawa would continue to support the core of the service’s expeditionary force, which includes the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and the command element of the III MEF.

The U.S. and Japan have also said they will keep Marine Corps helicopter and fixed-wing air operations on Okinawa, despite strong public opposition and the local government’s rejection of a plan to build a new U.S. air station to replace the Futenma base.

In all, about 10,000 Marines are slated to remain on the small island, which now reluctantly hosts about 74 percent of U.S. forces in Japan and is equidistant from the Japanese mainland, China, the Korean peninsula and Taiwan.

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Meanwhile, 4,700 Okinawa Marines will be permanently redeployed to Guam and about 2,500 Marines will eventually be rotated through Darwin, Australia, according to the Yomiuri and the joint basing agreement struck with the Australian government.

The U.S. military also plans to train Marines in the Philippines and deploy Navy ships in Singapore, the newspaper reported. The U.S. and the Philippines have been negotiating a possible joint-basing deal, though no agreement has yet been announced.

The Obama administration and military leaders have made it clear that U.S. forces will refocus on the Pacific region as the country wraps up a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The new deployments and bases could combine with existing units in Japan, Hawaii and California to create a string of Marine Corps forces that stretches 7,700 miles and projects as far as the Indian Ocean. Spreading out the Marine forces is part of a larger strategy designed to make any foreign attack more difficult, counter the growing military strength of China, and better prepare for any future humanitarian disaster relief efforts, according to the sources who spoke to Yomiuri.

Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.

trittent@pstripes.osd.mil

 

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