DPJ stays on offensive in refueling mission debate

by Reiji Yoshida

The Democratic Party of Japan stepped up its criticism Friday of the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s refueling operation in the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom in the Indian Ocean, as the Pentagon admitted it is difficult to trace the fuel provided by Japanese vessels.

The Defense Department released a statement late Thursday that states “the U.S. government believes it has faithfully complied with its agreement” to use the fuel from the maritime operation only for the war in and around Afghanistan.

The Pentagon pointed out that the fuel provided by MSDF vessels to U.S. vessels “is commingled with fuel from other sources” in the fuel tanks of ships, and the ships “may be engaged in multiple missions.”

But the Pentagon only said the amount of fuel consumed in total by OEF in the Indian Ocean was greater than the amount of fuel provided by the MSDF, which would suggest that all MSDF fuel was used strictly for vessels whose nations are involved in the antiterrorism operations centering on Afghanistan.

“More fuel was consumed on Operation Enduring Freedom missions than the amount of fuel Japan contributed. The entire Japanese contribution can be accounted for by fuel used by ships engaged in Operation Enduring Freedom,” the statement said.

The U.S. inability to specifically show how the fuel provided by Japan to American vessels was consumed has supplied more ammunition for the opposition camp, which strongly suspects the fuel provided by the MSDF was in fact used by the U.S. for the Iraq war.

Whether to extend the MSDF operation, which expires Nov. 1, has become the most contentious issue between the ruling and opposition camps in the current extraordinary Diet session.

“This has further deepened suspicion that fuel that Japan both directly and indirectly (provided to U.S. ships) was used for the Iraq war,” DPJ Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama told reporters Friday.

The DPJ suspects the fuel was used for the Iraq war in violation of a special MSDF dispatch law that stipulates fuel should only be provided for the OEF.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura meanwhile rushed Friday to defend the U.S., saying Tokyo accepts the Pentagon’s statement.

“I understand the conclusion (of the statement) is to deny misappropriation or diversion (of fuel),” he told a regular news conference.