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Saturday, Feb. 18, 2006

GSDF troops to start Iraq exit in March

ODA next focus; ASDF role remains

Staff writer

Japan will start pulling out its Ground Self-Defense Force troops from the southern Iraq city of Samawah in March and complete the withdrawal by the end of May, Foreign Ministry officials said Friday.

British and Australian troops in charge of maintaining security in the region also plan to withdraw their forces in March, a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

The pullout of the two countries' troops is key to Japan's own withdrawal schedule because the GSDF only has a mandate for reconstruction work and relies on other coalition troops to provide security in Al-Muthanna Province, where the GSDF troops are based.

According to a revised deployment plan endorsed in December, the government said it will assess the "conditions and changes in the composition (of other multinational forces), including the British and Australian forces in Al-Muthanna Province."

Japan will also make a decision on the withdrawal based on the progress of reconstruction, Iraq's political development and the security situation, the plan said.

Air Self-Defense Force personnel based in Kuwait flying supplies for the GSDF and the U.S.-led multinational forces will continue their mission in response to a request from the U.S., the senior ministry official said.

In addition, Japan has been asked by the United Nations to provide airlift support for the world body when it begins full-scale operations in Iraq later this year.

A top ASDF official said Japan can meet the U.N. request under the current legislation without further revision. But the ASDF has yet to receive an official request for assistance from the Foreign Ministry.

With the GSDF withdrawal, Japan is expected to shift its efforts to large-scale official development assistance projects.

"It will be a good opportunity for Japan to show how it wants to support Iraq," the ministry official said.

Protected by Australian and British forces, about 600 GSDF troops have been engaged in noncombat relief activities in Samawah since early 2004.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said he will carefully decide when to pull the Japanese troops out of Iraq, saying Japan must figure out the withdrawal timing carefully.

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The Japan Times

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