Okinawa governor tells panel it's time to reconsider U.S. military presence
February 18, 2005
NAHA, Okinawa — Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine told members of the Overseas Basing Commission on Tuesday the Marine Corps Air Station at Futenma should be closed early, before a replacement facility is built in a rural area of the island.
He also wanted the members of the special commission to convey to Washington his wish that Marine air units now ending their deployment to Iraq not return to Okinawa, according to a prefectural spokesman.
Inamine outlined his concerns during a two-hour dinner at the Naha home of U.S. Consulate General Thomas Reich, a consulate spokeswoman said Wednesday. The seven commission members and two Marine officers met with Inamine during the dinner.
U.S. officials issued no official statement concerning the meeting.
The Overseas Basing Commission was on Okinawa on Tuesday for whirlwind tours of MCAS Futenma and Kadena Air Base, and meetings with U.S. military and local officials. The visit was part of a fact-finding mission for a report the commission is to present to Congress in August with recommendations on realigning U.S. bases overseas.
“The governor’s focus was on closing the Futenma air station and moving all live-fire training currently conducted on camps Schwab and Hansen out of Okinawa,” said Tadanobu Higa, director of the prefecture’s Military Affairs Office. “He also conveyed his hope that the Marines and helicopters now deployed for missions in Iraq and the tsunami disaster relief are sent elsewhere instead of returning to Okinawa.”
The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, based on Okinawa, turned over its area of responsibility in Iraq’s western Anbar province Feb. 7 and is on its way back to bases on Okinawa and Hawaii. About 2,200 Marines and sailors are deployed with the 31st MEU.
Just a week before the Marines deployed to Iraq, a Marine CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter from Hawaii, deployed to MCAS Futenma, crashed on the grounds of Okinawa International University next to the Marine airfield. No civilian injuries were reported but since then Okinawa officials have called for the air station’s early closure.
In 1996, the United States and Japan agreed to close MCAS Futenma and move Marine air operations elsewhere on Okinawa. However, a planned new airport off Okinawa’s northeast shore is years behind schedule, according to Japanese officials. Construction has not yet begun.
During the dinner, Inamine also asked commission members to take measures to reduce aircraft noise from Kadena Air Base and stop building a U.S. Army Special Forces urban warfare training complex on Camp Hansen.
However, despite Japanese media reports to the contrary, Inamine did not ask that all Marines leave Okinawa, Higa said.
“The media reports do not reflect the governor’s true intention and remarks made during the meeting,” he said. “Although an Okinawa that is free of military bases would be better in the remote future, the governor did not say that he wanted all Marines and all Marine bases on Okinawa be removed at this time.”