• Kyodo

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Two Air Self-Defense Force C-130 transport aircraft carrying 41 Self-Defense Force members departed Thursday morning for Jordan to help airlift relief supplies for the Iraqi people, government officials said.

The 41 SDF members will be joined by 49 others who are traveling on a commercial airline, the officials said.

Japan is sending the service members to help transport the relief goods to Iraq under a law that allows the SDF to cooperate in U.N. peacekeeping operations, following a request by the World Food Program, the officials said. The service members themselves will not actually enter the country.

The government is considering sending troops to Iraq later this year under a special law now before the House of Councilors that is expected to be enacted this month. According to the government, SDF contingents will be sent to Iraq to help in its reconstruction.

The two C-130s took off from the ASDF’s Komaki base in Aichi Prefecture. They will stop in Okinawa, Thailand and India for refueling before reaching Amman on Monday, the officials said.

Dozens of activists assembled near the base to protest the dispatch of the aircraft. Riot police stood guard around the gates.

The SDF team on July 17 will start shuttling between Jordan and Italy, where the WFP has a supply base, to transport medical supplies, food, tents and other relief goods for Iraq.

The two planes will bear the letters “UN” on their vertical fins to show they are on a U.N. mission. They will also be carrying 19 9-mm handguns for use by SDF personnel to protect themselves, the government officials said.

The mission is scheduled to last until Aug. 18. If the United Nations so requests, the planes could also be used to transport goods between Europe and other countries in the Mideast, including Egypt.

Japan has dispatched C-130 transport planes overseas on 29 occasions since 1992 for peacekeeping activities as well as refugee aid operations. The nation has 16 C-130s, each of which can carry up to 92 people or 20 tons of cargo and fly some 4,000 km without refueling.

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