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Thursday, Dec. 3, 2009

Tokyo says U.S. surge in Afghanistan won't affect aid plan

Staff writer

Japan welcomed the new U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan but will stick with its $5 billion pledge to aid to the war-torn country and has no immediate plans to expand its assistance, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano said Wednesday.

"We welcome (the fact) that the president himself revealed the (U.S) strategy in Afghanistan," Hirano told reporters following an announcement by President Barack Obama that he is sending 30,000 more troops to the country.

But Hirano added that Tokyo does not intend to expand its aid to Afghanistan at this point.

"We will (steadily) carry out the $5 billion aid (program) over the next five years," he said, saying the government is implementing what it has already promised. Tokyo is assessing what it can do to support the ongoing effort in the region, he added.

The Cabinet last month said it would extend $5 billion over five years to Afghanistan to help it fight terrorism and rebuild its infrastructure. The package is seen as a replacement for the Maritime Self-Defense Force logistic support mission in the Indian Ocean the government plans to end in January.

The assistance package unveiled last month focuses on educational and agricultural aid, as well as humanitarian assistance and vocational training for former Taliban fighters.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has repeatedly pledged to end the refueling mission and focus more on nonmilitary aid to the Central Asian country, in an apparent effort to differentiate his Afghanistan policy from that of his Liberal Democratic Party predecessor.

And with the pacifist Social Democratic Party as part of Hatoyama's three-party coalition, it is even less likely the government will extend the naval mission or send troops to Afghanistan.

Hirano said Japan and the U.S. have not discussed sending the SDF.

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The Japan Times

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