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Friday, Sept. 21, 2007

MSDF fuel was used in Iraq war, group charges


Staff writer

Fuel provided by a Maritime Self-Defense Force vessel to the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk in February 2003 ended up being used for an Iraq-related operation, not for antiterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan as stipulated by law, a citizens' group that obtained copies of internal U.S. Navy documents claimed Thursday.

News photo
The Maritime Self-Defense Force ship Tokiwa (right) supplies fuel to a Pakistani vessel in the Arabian Sea on Sept. 13 as part of Japan's refueling activities in the Indian Ocean. KYODO PHOTO

If the allegation proves true, it will severely damage the government's efforts to extend the controversial antiterrorism law, which expires Nov. 1.

The government has insisted that the MSDF is abiding by the special law, which strictly limits Japan's logistic support to antiterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan, but not the Iraq War.

The opposition bloc is opposed to extending the MSDF mission because it says it is not backed by a United Nations resolution and is thus unconstitutional. It is the most contentious issue in the extraordinary Diet session that began earlier this month.

Peace Depot, a Yokohama-based citizens group, said it has obtained copies of internal documents related to the Kitty Hawk and the U.S. Navy oiler Pecos, including daily navigation logs.

The documents show that the USS Pecos received 18,704 barrels (2,986,800 liters) of fuel from the MSDF fuel-supply vessel Tokiwa on the morning of Feb. 25, 2003, in the Gulf of Oman off Iran.

Soon after fueling was completed at 10:09 a.m., the Pecos departed to join the Kitty Hawk. Later in the day, the U.S. oiler provided roughly the same amount of fuel to the carrier near the entrance to the Persian Gulf, copies of the documents show. The Kitty Hawk then moved deep into the Persian Gulf.

During a news conference Thursday, Peace Depot chief Hiromichi Umebayashi, a noted watcher of the U.S. forces in Japan, quoted the 2004 annual report of the Kitty Hawk as saying it joined Operation Southern Watch, which is a U.S.-led coalition operation to monitor and control the no-fly zone over Iraq and destroy hostile missile sites and command and control units on the ground.

Considering the logistics of where and when the refueling took place, almost all of it must have been used on the Iraqi operation, rather than in Operation Enduring Freedom in and around Afghanistan, Umebayashi said.

He said Peace Depot obtained the copies of the documents at a naval historical center in Washington and via a U.S. information disclosure law.

"This fueling activity clearly violated the antiterrorism law," Umebayashi said.

The U.S. Navy in Japan said Thursday it could not immediately comment, because navy experts need to examine the allegation and the data presented by Peace Depot.

Umebayashi's news conference was attended by lawmakers from the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force.

On March 20, about a month after the refueling, the Kitty Hawk joined the Iraq War. But the link between the MSDF and what the carrier did in Iraq is unclear because the fuel likely ran out in a week.



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