US, Japan continuing with plans to move Marines to Guam
By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN AND CHIYOMI SUMIDA | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 8, 2012
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The U.S. and Japan said Wednesday they will continue with plans to move Marine Corps forces off Okinawa, despite a looming impasse over the relocation of the Futenma air station.
About 8,000 Marines still will be relocated, but a review of force structure in the region is under way and could mean changes to the total number now slated to be stationed on the U.S. territory of Guam under a 2006 bilateral agreement, according to a joint statement published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The announcement marks the first substantial changes to the landmark realignment plan, which is strongly opposed by Okinawa and has caused a political headache for the Japanese government for years.
Now, the two allies will continue with the planned shift of Marine forces without first having to overcome hardened local opposition to keeping the Futenma air operations on the island, which was a prerequisite to the Guam move under the 2006 agreement and has stalled progress on the project.
Still, the unpopular effort to move Futenma to a newly built air station in northern Okinawa will continue in earnest, according to the joint statement.
“The United States and Japan continue to make a commitment to build a replacement facility for Futenma air operations at Henoko on Camp Schwab and adjacent waters,” it said. “Both governments believe that the current plan is the only effective approach.”
Okinawa leaders have vowed to continue to resist efforts to keep Marine Corps air operations here.
Even so, the realignment effort aims to close or shrink several other Marine Corps bases in south-central Okinawa, including Camp Kinser, the Naha port facility and Camp Foster.
The U.S. and Japan did not elaborate on whether any changes will be made to the base closures, but said the total number of Marines to be relocated will remain in line with the 8,000 proposed in the 2006 agreement.
“Within weeks or months, both governments will start to address the challenges to make these adjustments,” the statement said.