Okinawa leaders blast report calling for current levels of U.S. troops
August 27, 2005
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — While some U.S. communities are adjusting to base closures being announced by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission in Washington this week, Okinawa officials are upset about another committee’s report that recommends maintaining current force levels on Okinawa.
In its final report on Aug. 15, the Overseas Basing Commission, a panel created by Congress to study the basing of U.S. forces overseas, said its conclusions and recommendations are unchanged from an initial May 9 report.
“Okinawa is the strategic linchpin to operational capabilities in East Asia,” the report states. “Diminishing our combat capability on the island would pose great risk to our national interests in the region.”
The only change recommended for Okinawa in May was moving Marine Corps air operations from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Kadena Air Base and MCAS Iwakuni near Hiroshima.
“All other Marine Corps assets should remain on Okinawa,” the final report states.
In 1996 the United States and Japan agreed to close MCAS Futenma within five to seven years and move its assets to a new base to be built in waters off northeast Okinawa. Local opposition has stalled that plan for years and construction has not yet begun.
Okinawa’s U.S. bases cover a fifth of the island. More than half of the 47,000 U.S. troops in Japan are stationed on Okinawa, including about 18,000 Marines.
“The final report does not meet the wishes of people of Okinawa,” said Yoritaka Hanashiro, executive director of the Prefectural Governor’s Office. “For one thing, the commission’s report recommends leaving the Marine forces as they stand now.”
Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine has called for relocating the bulk of the Marine presence on Okinawa to Guam or Hawaii.
“Dispersing the air operations within Okinawa does not lead to reducing the military presence, which is the wish of the Okinawa people,” Hanashiro said, adding the report was just a recommendation.
“We hope that the U.S. government does not realign U.S. forces in Japan exactly in line with the committee’s report,” he said. “Moving Marine air operations to Kadena is unacceptable. Local communities surrounding the air base are already shouldering an excessive burden. We hope the Japanese government will speak up for Okinawa in the bilateral talks on the realignment,” he said.
Kadena Mayor Tokujitsu Miyagi also objected to any move of Marines to Kadena.
“I do not know how much the impact the report has on the coming realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, but I can see it is a claim of the military to retain the present Marine force level on Okinawa,” said Miyagi. “Our opposition to the move to Kadena remains unchanged,” he said.
“It is absolutely unacceptable.” He said the three communities that host the air base — Chatan, Okinawa City and Kadena — have “clearly voiced their stance to oppose any changes that would lead to the growth of the operations of the air base.”