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Japan and the United States are planning their first large-scale joint drill to evacuate civilians, simulating a scenario in which noncombatants are rescued from an overseas conflict zone, government sources said Saturday.

The drill, termed a Noncombatant Evacuate Operation (NEO), will be part of joint exercises involving Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and U.S. military forces in Japan in November. Transport aircraft, helicopters and troops will be used during the drill, according to the sources.

The operation is one of the areas of collaboration between Japanese and U.S. forces during contingencies in “areas surrounding Japan” — a concept incorporated into the bilateral defense cooperation guidelines in its 1997 revision.

The operation is seen as an example of bilateral military cooperation permitted by the guidelines, even though there is no clear definition of the term “areas surrounding Japan.”

Since the revisions, the Defense Agency has been making arrangements to allow the three SDF services — the Ground Self-Defense Force, the Maritime Self-Defense Force and the Air Self-Defense Force — to prepare for such operations.

The agency successfully pushed for a revision of the SDF Law in May 1999 to enable the services to use warships and helicopters in evacuations.

U.S. forces have already conducted a drill based on an emergency scenario on the Korean Peninsula that involved airlifting U.S. civilians in the South to its naval base in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, via Fukuoka airport.

The new joint exercises, including the evacuation operation, are scheduled to go on for around two weeks from Nov. 6 and are expected to mobilize some 20,000 military personnel from both Japan and the U.S.

In the NEO scenario, the U.S. Marine Corps’ Iwakuni base in Yamaguchi Prefecture will play the role of an airport in a foreign country in the midst of a conflict, the sources said.

U.S. and Japanese civilians will be airlifted from the facility in a mock evacuation, they said.

Japanese aircraft are to be used to transport Americans, while U.S. planes will carry Japanese.

At the base, the nationalities of the evacuees will be verified by Foreign Ministry officials before they depart for the ASDF’s Tsuiki base in nearby Fukuoka Prefecture.

At the MSDF’s Sasebo base, another drill will involve evacuating Japanese civilians by sea via the landing craft Ohsumi.

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