Commander: No plans to send Okinawa-based Japanese troops to Iraq
December 11, 2003
NAHA, Okinawa — Amid widespread speculation concerning Japan’s intent to send troops to Iraq, the new Ground Self-Defense Forces commander on Okinawa said Monday none of the troops will come from his command.
At least not yet.
“Our primary mission is the defense [of] the nation,” said Maj. Gen. Eiji Kimizuka, 1st Combined Brigade commander during a news conference shortly after he assumed the post.
He said he’s had no orders to prepare for an Iraq deployment, describing the current mission status as “a blank sheet of paper.”
And there’s enough unexploded ordnance left over from World War II to keep bomb disposal teams busy for decades, he said.
About 50 tons of unexploded bombs believed to be left over from the Battle of Okinawa are discovered and destroyed annually on Okinawa, Brigade spokesman Makota Kawaida said. The Ground Self-Defense Force responds to about 200 calls a year.
Kawaida said it will take another 30 to 40 years to uncover and clear the 2,500 tons of unexploded munitions believed to be buried on the island.
Kimizuka, who commands 1,800 Japanese troops here, said the immediate mission of Ground Self-Defense units here is to contribute to the local community.
“Achieving our mission to defend Japan and obtaining the trust and support from local community is not an either-or situation,” he said. “They are inseparable.”
Besides detonating old bombs, Ground Self-Defense Force units transport about 240 patients each year from remote islands in the prefecture to Okinawa hospitals.
During the conference, Kimizuka was asked whether Okinawa was a major target for terrorists because of its high concentration of U.S. military bases.
“I do not believe Okinawa is more dangerous than any other part of Japan,” he said. “Any place where terrorists think there are soft spots will become their targets.
“It is therefore our duty to keep vigilant eyes on the lookout.”