Japanese war effort sets sail
YOKOSUKA, Japan -- Amid protests, Japanese naval vessels have left port, heading into the Indian Ocean on a mission to provide logistical support for the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.
It represents the country's first military deployment in a war situation since World War II.
Two ships from the Maritime Self-Defence Force set sail under sunny skies from Yokosuka naval base just south of Tokyo and Kure, in southwestern Japan. Another ship was due to leave in the afternoon from Sasebo, also in southwestern Japan.
The vessels are being sent abroad under a landmark plan approved by the cabinet of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi two weeks ago in what will be Japan's first overseas deployment of its forces in a war situation for more than 55 years.
Japanese leaders are keen to avoid a rerun of Japan's 1991 diplomatic embarrassment, when it was widely criticized for declining to commit even a token force to the Gulf War. Tokyo did send mine-sweepers to the Gulf after the war was over.
Defence Agency chief, Gen Nakatani, appeared to be referring to this when he told the ship's crew that their mission was an important one.
"We must aim to be a nation that is respected by the rest of the world and a nation that can act on behalf of people around the world by contributing actively and responsibly," he said.
No Aegis destroyers
The three vessels will join another three ships that left Japan earlier this month on an information-gathering mission.
Japan's post-war, American-drafted constitution prohibits the use of force as a means to settle international disputes, and successive governments have interpreted that to mean a ban on collective self-defense, or aiding allies when they are attacked.
The mission is scheduled to end on March 31, Japanese media reported last week, but could be extended if necessary.
None of Japan's four destroyers equipped with advanced Aegis radar systems, which are capable of launching more than 10 missiles at once to shoot down incoming targets, was included in the mission.
Opposition lawmakers, along with some in Koizumi's dominant ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) had argued that including an Aegis destroyer would violate the country's post-war constitution.
The decision not to dispatch one of the ships was believed to be a concession to the sensitivities of neighboring Asian nations, who suffered from Japanese actions before and during World War Two and remain quick to pounce on what they see as any hints of resurgent militarism.
U.S. Ambassador to Japan Howard Baker said last week he was disappointed Japan would not be sending one of the ships, but that the decision did not diminish the importance of Japan's contribution.
Koizumi has made no secret of the fact that he would like to revise the constitution to address the ambiguous status of the nation's military.
A poll by the Mainichi newspaper in September showed that 41 percent of respondents now favored allowing Japanese forces to engage in collective self-defense, up from 25 percent in a poll conducted before the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Japanese warships set sail
November 9, 2001
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