TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- The Japanese navy deployed the first of two ships Thursday to resume the country's refueling mission in support of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, the Kyodo news agency reported.
The resumption -- which ends a three-month hiatus -- is "indispensable for Japan to fulfill its duty in the international community" and help make Afghanistan more stable, Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba said at a ceremony held at Yokosuka base, south of Tokyo, according to Kyodo.
The destroyer Murasame left Yokosuka on Thursday for the Indian Ocean, where in about three weeks it will rendezvous with the Oumi, a 13,500-ton support ship. The Oumi is scheduled to leave its base in southwestern Japan on Friday.
The two-vessel task force will include 340 crew members.
Japan has been a pacifist nation since World War II, and its participation in the refueling operation has been controversial. On November 1, Japan's defense minister ordered a halt to it, after the government failed to reach an agreement with parliament to extend it.
"It is very regrettable and sad to see Naval Self-Defense Forces stop the mission," Shigeru Ishiba said at the time. "I feel a grave responsibility as the representative of the Defense Ministry."
In the aftermath, government officials vowed to strike a deal to resume the mission. Although the opposition refused to support legislation to restart it, the government used its majority in the lower house to override, allowing Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force to resume the mission.
The ships are to provide oil and water for vessels participating in the U.S.-led coalition, Kyodo reported.
About 100 people protested the deployment Thursday morning outside the base in Yokosuka.
Before the break, Japan had been refueling coalition warships in the Indian Ocean since 2001. E-mail to a friend