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The Air Self-Defense Force has airlifted armed U.S. soldiers and other personnel of occupation forces to Iraq, ASDF Chief of Staff Gen. Yoshimitsu Tsumagari said Thursday.

He said the ASDF used its C-130 military transport aircraft deployed to Kuwait. The soldiers were carrying rifles and other light firearms, he said.

It was the first time the ASDF has admitted transporting armed troops in addition to airlifting their supplies as part of its support for the U.S.-led occupation forces.

In accordance with its war-renouncing Constitution, Japan has decided not to carry weapons or ammunition on such operations. It says it can transport troops carrying arms, however.

A law enacted in July calls for the ASDF to airlift supplies for the U.S.-led coalition as long as such operations do not affect the primary task of carrying relief goods.

“We have carried U.S. soldiers and civilian personnel” of the coalition forces, Tsumagari told a news conference.

Uprisings against the occupation have spread in central and southern Iraq, with fierce battles leaving scores of Iraqis and troops dead in the past week and causing the Ground Self-Defense Force contingent stationed in Samawah, southern Iraq, to suspend activities outside its camp.

But Tsumagari said the ASDF will continue operations. “Our mission has not been changed,” he said.

Ships back home

HIROSHIMA (Kyodo) A Japanese landing ship sent to Kuwait to supply Japanese troops in Iraq, and the destroyer that accompanied it, returned Thursday to their home ports.

The 8,900-ton Oosumi arrived in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, and the 4,550-ton destroyer Murasame returned to Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture.

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