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GSDF troops enjoyed Japanese rice, cup noodles sent over to Samawah

Throughout their 2 1/2-year mission in Iraq that concluded Monday, Ground Self-Defense Force troops survived mostly on food transported from Japan, including 420 tons of rice, logistics officers said.

Some 42,000 10-kg sacks of rice were shipped to Iraq and consumed by an aggregate 5,500 GSDF troops who were deployed to the southern Iraq city of Samawah in three-month rotations since early 2004.

With all 600 troops of the 10th contingent having departed the Samawah camp and arrived in Kuwait, they will start returning home Tuesday.

The massive supplies cost 61 billion yen up through March, and 12 billion yen more has been allocated under the budget for fiscal 2006, which started in April, the GSDF officers said.

In sending rice, the Ground Staff Office chose a type of milled grain that requires no washing prior to cooking, thus allowing the troops to save water in an area where they were initially tasked to help supply clean water to the local population.

Cup noodles were also popular with the troops, who consumed 240,000 cups, or an average of 250 per day.

The troops also consumed some 756,000 bottles of sports drinks to ward off the intense heat.

No beer accompanied the Iraq mission, however, because they were stationed in a Muslim country, the officers said. Instead, the GSDF procured nonalcoholic beerlike beverages from Kuwait, they said.

“I had lost 5 kg by the time I returned home, probably from stress,” a 47-year-old second lieutenant from Hokkaido remembered.

“It’s an experience that changed my view of my career,” a 29-year-old sergeant first class from Kumamoto Prefecture said. “I realized how militaries in the world actually work.”

He added he was not allowed to tell his family when he would return home.

A 48-year-old major from Kyoto Prefecture, who also participated in peacekeeping operations in Cambodia, said, “I felt under threat (in Iraq), unlike (in Cambodia), and was nervous.”

He said it was unfortunate the GSDF troops were not able to go out and talk to local people.

Peacekeeping eyed

Japan should volunteer troops if the United Nations conducts a peacekeeping operation in Iraq and security in the strife-torn country improves, Foreign Minister Taro Aso said Tuesday.

“I cannot foresee at this point whether a peacekeeping mission can be dispatched, but in the long run that is the direction that we should be thinking about,” Aso said at a news conference.

He made the remarks after being asked how Japan intends to help Iraq now that the Ground Self-Defense Force has withdrawn from the war-torn country.

The GSDF, protected by the Dutch and later the British and Australian armies, started providing humanitarian and reconstruction assistance — including water purification, medical aid and construction work — in the southern city of Samawah in early 2004. The troops completed their withdrawal Monday and are now in Kuwait.

Aso also mentioned official development assistance and civilian activities as other means of providing aid.

The decision to leave Iraq was made June 20 after Iraq announced that security in the area would be transferred from the multinational forces to the Iraqis.

Japan now intends to expand the mission of the Air Self-Defense Force, which has been operating out of Kuwait.

An international coalition force unit in the province transferred security responsibilities to the Iraqis last week.

Kuwait help sought

KUWAIT CITY (Kyodo) Defense Agency chief Fukushiro Nukaga on Tuesday asked Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Muhammad al-Sabah al-Salem for continued cooperation as the Air Self-Defense Force personnel in Kuwait expand their airlift mission to Iraq.

In a meeting at the National Assembly in Kuwait City, the Kuwaiti minister responded that his country fully supports Japan’s work for long-term stability in the Middle East, Japanese officials said.

Nukaga expressed appreciation for Kuwait’s cooperation.