U.S. forces seek closer ties with communities

Kyodo

A senior official with the U.S. Marine Corps in Okinawa said the U.S. military intends to strengthen cooperation with local authorities to conduct relief operations smoothly in the event of a huge earthquake.

Robert D. Eldridge, deputy assistant chief of staff of government and external affairs for the U.S. Marine Corps at Camp Butler, said in a recent interview that efforts to boost U.S. military cooperation with Japanese authorities have already begun.

U.S. officers attended a disaster meeting hosted by the Shizuoka Prefectural Government last May, together with officials of nine municipalities, including some from Aichi and Mie prefectures, according to Eldridge.

The Shizuoka Prefectural Government later sent officials to the U.S. Marine Corps in Okinawa to train and exchange opinions, which Eldridge described as a model case.

U.S. military personnel also took part in emergency drills in Tokyo and Shizuoka Prefecture last year.

Shizuoka and many of the prefectures involved in the May meeting with U.S. forces fear a devastating earthquake centering on the Nankai Trough off central and western Japan, which seismologists say could occur in the near future.

Eldridge, who spoke Japanese for the interview, was a liaison officer coordinating with the Japanese side when Operation Tomodachi was carried out in the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

He said the Japanese side did not sufficiently understand the U.S. Marines’ land, sea and air capabilities, which led to a delay in the dispatch of some U.S. elements to disaster-hit areas.

He described relief operations following disasters as a race against time, and the number of survivors can increase if operations start even one minute earlier.

Eldridge said it is necessary to develop a human relationship between the U.S. forces and prefectural and local offices so the necessary forces can be dispatched immediately to where they are needed.

He said Operation Tomodachi showed the world that at crunch time the Japan-U.S. alliance is firm and functions smoothly.

But he added it took around a week before the cooperative system between the U.S. forces and the Self-Defense Forces completely got on track, providing a harsh lesson for both sides.

Futenma fray continues

Naha Okinawa Pref. JIJI

Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima suggested Monday that he will reject a central government application for his permission to carry out landfill work necessary for the Futenma base replacement.

“I’m ready to throw the ball back (to the central government’s side),” he told reporters at the prefectural office.

Nakaima was responding to recent media reports that the central government is considering filing for the governor’s approval as early as next month for reclamation work in the Henoko district in the city of Nago.

Based on its agreements with the United States, the central government plans to close the Futenma base in Ginowan and build a replacement airstrip in the Henoko district, a move opposed by Okinawa residents who want the base moved out of the prefecture.

Nakaima also showed his displeasure with the plan by saying moving Futenma’s functions to Henoko will drag on for years. “Does the government think that it can be done in a short period of time?” he asked.

At their meeting in Washington on Friday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told President Barack Obama that his government is ready to take concrete steps to promote the base relocation plan.