|

Antiterror effort vital, new defense chief says

by Reiji Yoshida

The government has not yet decided whether to submit a bill that would extend the fuel-supply mission for NATO-led naval forces in the Indian Ocean, according to the newly appointed defense minister.

But the government will try to get its message out to the public that taking a role in what it describes as the fight against terrorism is vital, said Yoshimasa Hayashi, a 47-year-old Upper House member from Yamaguchi Prefecture.

“I understand that there are various opinions on what we should do after the (operational) period ends. But I must tell you first the government has not made any decision yet,” said Hayashi, who was appointed to his position in the Aug. 1 Cabinet reshuffle.

“We need to explain the meaning of the fight against terrorism in a larger context,” he said.

Tokyo has remained uncommitted despite growing calls from NATO countries to provide more support for the military operations in Afghanistan, where the security situation has deteriorated considerably and casualties of NATO-led troops are on the rise.

Since November 2001, Maritime Self-Defense Force warships have been providing support for the multinational forces in Afghanistan, apart from a temporarily disruption when the necessary special law expired in November.

The mission was resumed when the ruling parties forced a new law through the Diet last January by overriding the opposition-control Upper House. The current law expires this January.

Hayashi said the operations in Afghanistan and the maritime support were originally launched as a response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

“More than 40 countries have kept up the fight against terrorism, making sacrifices in various ways,” Hayashi said. “I think there is a consensus (among Japanese) that we should do something” to fight terrorism.

He did not rule out considering other operations to contribute to the NATO-led forces in Afghanistan after the special law expires.

But he refused to discuss any specific measures that might replace the fuel-supply mission, saying it is too early and the government’s first preference is the extension of the current operation.

“It’s needless to say (the extension) is the base” of government consideration, he said. “But the situation changes from moment to moment, and the situation at the Diet is different from a year ago. It’s important to hold a serious discussion considering those factors.”