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Frustration is mounting within the Ground Self-Defense Force, with personnel still in the dark — at least officially — over the timing, location and purpose of their expected mission to Iraq before the end of the year.

When the nation’s military has previously been dispatched overseas to join U.N.-authorized peacekeeping operations, the Cabinet Office has issued the Defense Agency with an order to prepare the SDF for these missions.

These procedures have included the selection of units to be sent, vaccination against possible diseases and the purchase of necessary equipment, according to the GSDF.

According to agency officials, it is a process that ensures the “civilian control” of the SDF, as stipulated by the Constitution.

But this time around, three months after the enactment of a law permitting a dispatch to Iraq, an order of this kind has yet to be issued.

“There are many things the Defense Agency can do,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said after meeting with Defense Agency chief Shigeru Ishiba on Oct. 14, five days after a government fact-finding team to Iraq returned from a one-month mission.

The mission’s report is widely viewed as the start of final preparations for the SDF dispatch.

The Cabinet Office maintains that it is not legally obliged to issue a preparation order, stating that this is simply a customary practice.

Critics argue, however, that this represents an attempt by the coalition government to play down the dispatch ahead of the Nov. 9 general election.

Fearful of undermining civilian control, all Ishiba has said since his meeting with Fukuda is: “We are doing what we can within the recognition of the government.”

Citing security concerns, the agency has refused to disclose any details of the preparatory measures that are being discussed.

“It looks almost certain that some of us will go to Iraq,” a senior GSDF officer said. “But we can’t act until we receive a clear order (to prepare for the mission).”

Another GSDF officer said that the GSDF is formulating hundreds of possible scenarios, including normal shooting exercises.

But he added that “given time constraints, we would be only allowed to practice several dozens (of drills ahead of the Iraq dispatch).”

Another GSDF official remarked, “No matter what (the situation may be), we want to go (to Iraq) with full public support.”

The official added that the public seems to have forgotten why Japanese forces are going to Iraq because Diet discussions and media reports have focused on minor points, such as where and with what equipment the SDF will travel.

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