The commander of Marine Corps Bases Japan told a Japanese news agency Monday the current reduction of U.S. troops on Okinawa is a temporary situation.
Lt. Gen. Robert R. Blackman Jr. told Kyodo News the current reduction in troops is due to deployments to Iraq, but those troops will eventually return to Okinawa.
“The focus in the global war on terrorism right now is to be successful in Iraq,” Blackman told Kyodo. “Once we are successful … you’ll see those units come back. They will return to Okinawa.”
The report said the Okinawa prefectural government had expressed hope for a reduction in U.S. forces there by not seeing a return of Iraq-dispatched troops.
A Marine spokeswoman said Tuesday the troops are needed back on Okinawa for regional security.
“There’s a strategic importance for the troops to return to Okinawa, which is to remain committed to the defense of Japan and remain as a deterrent in the Asia/Pacific region,” the spokeswoman said.
Blackman also discussed with Kyodo the planned move of Futenma Marine Corps Air Station to Henoko.
“The site in the city of Nago will meet our operational requirement,” he told the news agency.
“There is no one on this island more anxious than I am to see a replacement facility built that meets our operational requirement and to move from [Futenma] Marine Corps Air Station.”
The report said the Ginowan city government, where Futenma MCAS is located, said more than 40 helicopters from there have been sent to Iraq.
The local government is reportedly urging U.S. military authorities on Okinawa to return the helicopters to stateside bases and close down the air station. Blackman said the request isn’t likely to happen until the Henoko facility is completed.
“Until such time as an operationally capable replacement is constructed, they will return to Futenma,” Blackman said.
Demands for the closure of Futenma MCAS have grown since the crash of a CH-53D helicopter in Ginowan in mid-August. The cause of the crash was determined to be maintenance missteps.
Kyodo News reported the calls for closure increased after a demand by Japanese police and firefighters to take part in the investigation into the incident was rejected by the U.S. military. The report said the Japanese officials wanted to question maintenance workers and the pilot.
“Less than two months later, we provided the government of Japan with copies of the investigation. We have cooperated fully,” Blackman said, according to the report, which indicated the U.S. military will continue to reject the Japanese demand.