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Staff writer

The U.S. military’s insistence on carrying out parachute drills Saturday in Okinawa at such a sensitive time — just as full-fledged Diet deliberations on the controversial Japan-U.S. military cooperation guidelines are set to begin — is baffling not just residents of the prefecture but the government as well.

“We must stop the exercises. (The U.S. forces) should be more sensitive to the sentiment of Okinawans,” said a top Defense Agency official earlier this week on condition of anonymity.

He added that he fears the negative sentiment that could arise against the U.S. military in Okinawa would badly affect the fate of the guidelines-related bills, which will be debated by a Lower House special committee from mid-
March.

Meanwhile, Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine has recently made a fresh start on the prolonged issue regarding relocating U.S military facilities in Okinawa — another sensitive factor that can be much affected by the drills. The U.S. forces will conduct the drills at Kadena Air Base in central Okinawa from 6 to 9 a.m. on Saturday. Green Berets, a special unit of the U.S. Army, as well as U.S. Air Force and Marine paratroopers will participate, according to Lt. Col. Billy Birdwell, a U.S. Forces Japan spokesman.

Birdwell said only paratroopers, and not supplies, will be dropped this time from U.S. Air Force MC-130 special tactical aircraft. He declined to confirm the number of soldiers who will be participating.

Before Okinawa’s reversion to Japan in 1972, two Japanese children were killed after being crushed by supplies dropped during U.S. parachute drills.

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