SAMAWAH, Iraq – The chief of staff of the Ground Self-Defense Force visited a GSDF camp here Friday to raise the morale of troops tasked with providing reconstruction assistance.
Gen. Hajime Massaki, the first top-ranking official of the Defense Agency or the Self-Defense Forces to visit Samawah, told a news conference at the camp that he was relieved to see his personnel were all safe.
Back in Tokyo, however, Defense Agency officials were criticized for leading the agency’s press club to believe Thursday that Massaki was still in Japan; in fact, he had already departed for Iraq.
The chief of staff of the GSDF holds a regular news conference every Thursday at 3:30 p.m.
As of Wednesday night, agency officials included the news conference among the items slated for the next day.
But at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, the agency said the news conference would be canceled. Officials acknowledged that they had released the schedule the previous day despite knowing it would be called off because of Massaki’s absence, and explained that the strategy had been pursued because of “security concerns.”
Officials at the Ground Staff Office apologized to the irate press club, admitting that “it was an inappropriate dissemination of information.”
A senior Defense Agency official promised to prevent a recurrence of the incident, saying that “false information was undesirable” and that there was room for soul-searching on the matter.
At the same time, however, agency officials said the chief of staff was more likely to be the target of an attack by terrorists or insurgents than rank-and-file soldiers.
Some at the Ground Staff Office argued that the visit was “part of a military operation” and that the action was rational.
Massaki’s trip is aimed at laying the groundwork for Defense Agency Director General Shigeru Ishiba to visit Samawah. Ishiba has voiced intent to visit the city “at an appropriate time” after Massaki.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has also said he wants to visit “if circumstances permit.”
Massaki’s trip is apparently aimed at boosting the morale of the GSDF troops — as the Japanese public remains divided over the deployment — as well as checking the safety of the area in preparation for possible visits by Koizumi and Ishiba.
The troops are helping to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, providing drinking water and offering medical services to local residents.
MSDF to join drills
The Maritime Self-Defense Force will participate in international minesweeping drills off Singapore between April 21 and May 7, the Defense Agency said Friday.
It is the second time for the MSDF to participate in Western Pacific minesweeping drills, cosponsored by the Singaporean and Indonesian navies, following drills in 2001.