WASHINGTON – The United States is considering transferring some of the U.S. Marine Corps troops in Okinawa to two sites in Honshu as an option for realigning U.S. forces in Japan, a diplomatic source said Sunday.
About 2,600 troops would be moved from Okinawa to Camp Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture and Camp Zama in Kanagawa Prefecture, the source said.
If implemented, the transfers would result in a reduction of roughly 16 percent in the number of marines in Okinawa, currently totaling about 16,000.
Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of the U.S. military presence in Japan, has been seeking reductions in troops stationed there.
It is unclear, however, if the plan will be realized given anticipated opposition from municipalities and residents near the two candidate sites.
It also remains to be seen whether the partial transfer would satisfy the Okinawa Prefectural Government and local residents because most marines are expected to remain in the nation’s southernmost prefecture.
Under the plan, part of the artillery unit and the infantry battalion belonging to the 3rd Marine Division in Gushikawa, Okinawa Prefecture, would be transferred to Camp Fuji, while one of the regiment headquarters would be moved to Camp Zama, the source said.
Even if the artillery unit is to be moved to Camp Fuji, training involving live artillery fire would continue to be carried out in several training ranges of the Ground Self-Defense Forces, so that the increased burden on the city of Gotenba, which hosts Camp Fuji, would be minimized.
Currently, live-fire artillery drills are conducted in the Higashi Fuji training range in Shizuoka Prefecture, the Yausubetsu range in Hokkaido, the Hijudai range in Oita Prefecture and the Ojojihara range in Miyagi Prefecture.
Earlier, Japan and the United States discussed moving the artillery unit to the Yausubetsu range, but the U.S. side is now negative toward that option, the source said.
Sources close to the U.S. military in Japan have said a transfer to Yausubetsu would involve construction of new facilities, and that the lack of a U.S. naval base in Hokkaido raises concerns about the immediate transport of the marine unit in emergencies.
The U.S. Defense Department is promoting a transformation of U.S. troops deployed abroad to better respond to new threats such as terrorism.
The Pentagon is also seeking to strengthen relations with the forces of U.S. allies through the planned military realignment.
Camp Fuji is close to the 88,000-sq.-km East Fuji training range, jointly used by U.S. forces and the Self-Defense Forces.
The source said transferring marines in Okinawa to Camp Fuji would help strengthen relations with the SDF. If some of the marines move to Camp Zama, it would help deepen cooperation between them and the U.S. Army.
The headquarters of the U.S. Army in Japan is located in Camp Zama. The U.S. military is reportedly seeking to transfer the headquarters of the U.S. Army’s I Corps from Fort Lewis in Washington state to Camp Zama.