Additional 1,000 Marines may be leaving Okinawa
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A Japan official Monday confirmed reports that the United States was offering to move an additional 1,000 Marines from the island as part of its realignment of U.S. forces in Japan.
If included in a final bilateral realignment report to be issued by the end of this month, it would mean that some 8,000 Marines would be transferred, most of them to Guam, effectively cutting their numbers on Okinawa by more than half.
And it also could lead to a dramatic change in the footprint of the U.S. military on the island, closing bases in the heavily developed urban centers and moving most Marine operations to the rural northeast.
“Both governments are working on a concrete plan to be compiled in March,” said Takashi Ariyoshi, a deputy director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “It is a fact that both governments discussed the possibility of changing the number to 8,000 from the original 7,000.”
A Marine spokesman said Monday there are currently 13,000 Marines assigned to Okinawa but would not comment on the number allegedly slated to leave.
The 8,000 figure is nothing new, Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha said Monday.
“We had information last July that the Overseas Basing Commission had information that 8,000 Marines might be moved,” Iha said. “I welcome reports that the number has reached that goal.”
But that’s not enough, he said. MCAS Futenma is located in the middle of Ginowan and Iha is a vocal opponent of the U.S. military on the island.
“The biggest burden for the people of Okinawa is the presence of the military,” Iha said. “It is high time for the military to withdraw entirely from this island.”
Under a bilateral interim report on realignment issued in October, the headquarters of the III Marine Expeditionary Force would be relocated to Guam and the remaining Marine units on the island would be reduced to a Marine Expeditionary Brigade. The transferred personnel would come from air, ground, logistics and command elements.
In addition, about 9,000 dependents would move to Guam. The United States has asked Japan to pick up part of the tab for the move — some $7.6 billion.
The October report states that Marine Corps units that remain in Okinawa would be consolidated to camps in the north.
“This would enable the return of significant land in the densely populated areas south of Kadena Air Base,” the report stated.
Okinawa officials have interpreted that portion of the report to mean that Camp Kinser, as well as MCAS Futenma, would be closed, along with Camp Lester, which is already going through a return process as outlined in a 1996 agreement.
Parts of Camp Foster also would be closed. Earlier agreements identified part of the Kishaba Housing Area to be returned. Also, single-family housing in the development is slated to be razed and replaced with multifamily units.
Ariyoshi declined to discuss base closures.
“Concerning details covered by the ongoing talks, including the closure of military installations, we will refrain from making further comments — including whether the subject was on the agenda,” he said.