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Japan opts for historic military move

Destroyer Kurama
Destroyer Kurama departed Sasebo port last Friday for preparation  

TOKYO, Japan -- Japan has formally approved a plan to give logistical and non-combat support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's cabinet on Friday gave the go-ahead for what would be Japan's first overseas deployment of its forces in a war situation since World War Two.

Keen to avoid a rerun of a 1991 diplomatic embarrassment when Tokyo failed to send even a token force to the Gulf War, the parliament enacted a law late last month allowing its military to go abroad to back up the U.S.-led strikes.

The law, which clarifies the role the military could play without violating Japan's pacifist constitution, has been dubbed a key step forward in expanding the reach of Japan's forces.

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At a glance: Japan

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Top government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda said the plan provided for the dispatch of two supply ships, up to three destroyers, six transport planes and one or two multi-purpose planes, along with around 1,400 personnel over a six-month period starting next Tuesday, Reuters reported.

The Japanese Self-Defense Forces, as the military is known, would operate in several overseas locations, including the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, Singapore, Australia, the Arabian Sea and the Gulf, reports said.

Two destroyers and a supply ship left the southwest port of Sasebo last Friday as an advance flotilla for a bigger operation.

The government allocated 15.2 billion yen ($124.2 million) to the Defense Agency for counter-terrorism steps in an extra budget enacted on Friday, and could also draw on a 50 billion yen reserve fund to pay for the operation, which Kyodo news agency said could cost up to 20 billion yen if it lasts one year.

U.S., Japan on Afghan rebuilding

U.S. officials have taken pains to avoid giving any impression that Japan's efforts might come too late.

But with almost two-thirds of Afghanistan now under opposition control, attention is turning to the next stage.

Among the looming questions are who would run the war-torn nation, how to rebuild it and whether the United States would widen the scope of attacks in its pursuit of Osama bin Laden.

Japan, hoping to play a key role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, will co-chair with the United States a multi-national meeting on the topic in Washington next Tuesday.

Sadako Ogata, former U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, will attend the talks as a special envoy along with Japanese Foreign and Finance Ministry officials.


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