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Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2005

Bill OK'd to extend MSDF's mission

Staff writer

The administration Tuesday endorsed a bill that would extend for one more year the antiterrorism law allowing the Maritime Self-Defense Force to refuel U.S.-led coalition vessels in the Indian Ocean.

The Cabinet endorsed the bill amid growing speculation that the Ground Self-Defense Force's humanitarian mission in Iraq, which expires Dec. 14, will be extended again and then the troops will be withdrawn by next summer.

The dispatches are the two main pillars of Japan's support for U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have earned much appreciation from the U.S. and strengthened bilateral relations.

The antiterrorism law, valid for two years, was established in November 2001 to support U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

This will be the second time the government has extended the MSDF refueling activities. The first extension, in 2003, was for two years.

The decision this time to extend the mission for only one year apparently reflects Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's intention to wind down the operation by the time his term as Liberal Democratic Party president ends next September, a senior government official said.

"The prime minister believes the next administration should have the freedom to make its own decision," the official said.

The Defense Agency and the Foreign Ministry wanted to continue the activities for two more years in light of the alliance with the U.S.

"Japan's activity is highly praised internationally and there is still the need (for the mission)," Defense Agency chief Yoshinori Ono told reporters.

Separately, MSDF Chief of Staff Adm. Takashi Saito stressed that its free refueling has helped other nations to carry out the antiterrorist campaign effectively, including capturing terrorists and seizing arms and drugs transported by sea.

The MSDF has provided about 410,000 kiloliters of fuel, worth some 16.2 billion yen, to 11 nations, including the U.S. and Britain, since December 2001.

MSDF helicopters have provided about 370 kiloliters of fuel, worth 17 million yen, since last December.

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The Japan Times

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