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Ideas flying back and forth on U.S. troop realignments

Date Posted: 2004-10-22

Troop reductions in Japan, as well as military realignments, remain atop the Japan news heap as politicians talk, then deny what’s going to happen.

Japanese officials are studying an American plan to relocate the U.S. I Corps from Fort Lewis, Washington, to Camp Zama, near Tokyo. Depending on which reports people read, the idea is either great, good, or bad. The U.S. wants to shift the corps headquarters into the Pacific to make Northeast Asia operations easier, as many units are spending time in the Middle East.

The plan first went on the table a week ago, as part of a realignment plan that would remove some of the troop stationing burden from Okinawa. Moving I Corps to Kanagawa Prefecture would increase the U.S. presence by about 500 personnel. Reaction was fast, and negative. Prefecture officials told the Central Government they didn’t want the increase. Japanese government officials then backed off, calling the plan “politically unacceptable” because of conflicts with terms of the regional security pact with America.

Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura took a middle ground, telling reporters “we’re not ready” to establish a time line, but hinting that an announcement could come in the Spring. Yoshinori Ono, Director General of Japan’s Defense Agency, was talking around the time frames as well, but hinting a decision won’t come this year.

There is agreement on plans to shift a U.S. Air Force headquarters from Yokota Air Base to Guam, reducing the American staff by nearly 200. Moving the 13th Air Force to Guam is consistent with the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.

A decision to not return the 4th Marine Regiment to Okinawa after its tour in Iraq is considered a de facto troop reduction on Okinawa. The regiment is part of the Third Marine Expeditionary Force, but it’s 3,000 members have been off Okinawa since February.

Plans to shift an artillery battalion from Camp Hansen to another location remain alive. The 3rd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, was identified earlier for a move to mainland Japan, but that is now up in the air.

The latest round of talks also brought demands that the Naha Military Port move to Urasoe be expedited, and that the Northern Training Area be closed.

Okinawa Governor Keiichi Inamine is coming up with ideas of his own on how to realign the bases. Although details have not been released, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda has promised to listen to the Okinawa leadership’s ideas.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs says it will listen too, but notes that the decisions don’t rest with the Prefecture, but with the Central Government. Japan’s Defense Agency chief says his organization will examine Inamine’s plan, to see if it can be incorporated with government plans.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda has confirmed that there are movements being considered to foster troop reductions on Okinawa. He says Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s government has asked the U.S. to look at overseas locations for troops now based in Okinawa, and acknowledged that a formal request for action has already been made.

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