Japan may scale down naval mission for Afghanistan

TOKYO (AFP) — Japan said Wednesday it may scale down a naval mission supporting US-led forces in Afghanistan to try to resolve a row with the opposition that helped bring down the previous government.

Lawmakers are to debate whether to halt the refuelling of foreign supply ships in the Indian Ocean so Japan is not seen to be providing indirect support for military activities outside of the Afghanistan theatre, said Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura.

But Japan would continue to supply fuel directly to coalition ships involved in the Afghanistan mission.

“If we can keep the operation that way, it would be one idea,” said Machimura, the top government spokesman.

Under legislation passed after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States, Japanese ships refuel and give other logistical support to coalition forces which overthrew Afghanistan’s extremist Taliban regime.

But opposition lawmakers have alleged that fuel meant to supply forces in Afghanistan had been diverted to US operations in Iraq, and are expected to grill Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda about those claims.

The mandate for the Indian Ocean mission expires on November 1. The resurgent opposition party, which controls the upper house of parliament, opposes the government move to extend the anti-terror law.

News reports on Wednesday said the ruling coalition would seek a fresh law to sustain the mission, with plans to submit a bill to parliament in mid-October.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner New Komeito will put a draft of the bill on the negotiating table with opposition parties on Friday.

Renewing the naval mission is the first task for Fukuda, who took office last week.

While the ruling coalition could use its large majority in the lower house to ram through the bill, the new legislation may not be passed before the current mandate expires if the opposition in the upper house tries to stall it.

In that case Japan’s mission might have to be suspended until the new law takes effect.

Ichiro Ozawa, head of the main opposition Democratic Party, has said Japan, which has been officially pacifist since defeat in World War II, should not be part of “American wars” and that overseas missions need UN backing.

The UN Security Council last month adopted a resolution expressing thanks to Tokyo for supporting the operations in Afghanistan.

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