Tokyo eyes MSDF exit at expiry of Indian Ocean duty

Japan may withdraw the Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels providing logistic support in the Indian Ocean for naval vessels involved in the U.S.-led antiterror campaign in and around Afghanistan when the mission expires Nov. 1, government sources said Thursday.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has told the government to study the move.

Although Koizumi may extend the deployment of the Ground Self-Defense Force in the southern Iraq city of Samawah after its mission ends in mid-December, he aims to reduce the overseas missions of the Self-Defense Forces through the MSDF pullout, the sources said.

The government will begin consultations with the United States for a possible withdrawal if the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito coalition retains a majority in the Sept. 11 House of Representatives election, enabling Koizumi to stay in power.

The sources said the government had earlier considered doing the opposite — pulling the GSDF out of Samawah later this year and keeping the MSDF in the Indian Ocean — because of growing security concerns in Iraq.

But Koizumi began to consider withdrawing the MSDF vessels after Iraq formally asked Tokyo last month to keep the GSDF troops in Samawah, the sources said.

Given Japan’s close alliance with the United States, it would not be desirable to end both missions at the same time, the sources said.