A special operations unit debuted Monday in the Ground Self-Defense Force in response to growing fears of terrorism and guerrilla attacks on Japan.

Headquartered in Narashino, Chiba Prefecture, the 300-member unit, consisting mainly of elite airborne troops and those who completed the strenuous ranger training course, will be tasked with intelligence-gathering and tracking suspected terrorists.

The unit will also help police hunt and capture guerrillas, the Defense Agency said.

Unlike special forces in other countries, including the Delta Force of the U.S. Army, which operates outside the United States, Japan’s counterterrorist unit will mainly work within Japanese territory and in a defensive capacity, it said.

The unit is just at the starting point, Hajime Massaki, chief of staff of the GSDF, told reporters Thursday. “It will take a long time, say 10 or 15 years, to get into full shape.”

The identities of the unit’s members will remain secret. Photos of the members taken from behind were released Monday to mark the birth of the special force.

Japan has been preparing to respond to the threat of terrorism since the 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system by Aum Shinrikyo and a suspected infiltration attempt by North Korean ships in 1999.

It has increased coastal security with mobile radar systems. Since November 2002, GSDF troops have participated in simulation exercises with police nationwide to prepare for urban guerrilla-style warfare.

As police are primarily responsible for dealing with terrorist attacks under Japanese law, how to build cooperative bodies and divide responsibilities between the two organizations will need consideration, agency officials said.

The Maritime Self-Defense Force has a special operations force, Special Boarding Unit, created in March 2001 in response to the North Korean infiltration attempt two years earlier.

There is an overlap of roles between the MSDF and the Japan Coast Guard, which also has a special counterterrorism unit, the Special Security Team, established in 1996.

Defense panel eyed

Staff report The government will set up an advisory panel to the prime minister early next month to draw up recommendations for the planned revision of the National Defense Program Outline, which sets basic defense polices, the top government spokesman said Monday.

“Measures are now required to cope with new situations, such as the proliferation of weapon of mass destruction and ballistic missiles, and international terrorism,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said during his daily news briefing.

“We haven’t specifically decided yet, but I think probably we will (set up the panel),” Fukuda said.

The 1976 program outline was last amended in 1995 to cope with new threats in the post-Cold War era, including increasing regional disputes and terrorist attacks.

In December, however, the government decided to revise the outline again by the end of this year, as the Cabinet formally decided to introduce the U.S.-made missile defense system in view of the ballistic missile threat from North Korea.

At the same time, an in-house panel of the Defense Agency revealed an interim report for the revision of the outline, calling for drastic cuts in the number of Self-Defense Forces tanks, destroyers and aircraft.

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