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Japan ended a refueling mission in the Indian Ocean on Friday that provided support to the international war effort in Afghanistan since 2001.

The refueling, which was controversial in Japan, was stopped because of a declining demand for the service in recent years, and it will be replaced with increased humanitarian aid, Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said during a press conference Friday, according to a statement on the Ministry of Defense Web site.

"As the refueling support special measurement law expires, the refueling activity by the Maritime Self-Defense Force in the Indian Ocean will be concluded as of today," Kitazawa said. "The need has been reduced to a great extent, which makes me believe that our mission was, in a way, about to come to an end anyway."

Operations conducted by the supply ship Mashu and the destroyer Ikazuchi were ordered to halt at midnight Friday, he said.

Japan has debated its role in Afghanistan for years and recently pledged to end the refueling mission, which for many tested the limits of its pacifist constitution by directly supporting combat forces.

In exchange for refueling assistance, the Japanese government pledged $5 billion in aid to Afghanistan in November, which will primarily fund the Afghan national police, vocational training, job development, health care and other basic services, according to the Defense Ministry.

In all, Japan has pledged roughly $2 billion and spent $1.7 billion in war assistance since 2001, the Department of Defense reported in November.

Last year, it contributed $500 million in aid, including $300 million for election assistance, and paid six months worth of salaries for the entire Afghan police force, about 80,000 members, in addition to hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid and governance, security and reconstruction programs.

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