• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, during the first visit to Kuwait by a Japanese leader, thanked about 200 Air Self-Defense Force members deployed to Ali Al Salem Air Base for their Iraq airlift mission.

Referring to deteriorating security and living conditions in Iraq, Abe said: “In whatever circumstance, I am confident that you will continue to make a major contribution to the reconstruction of Iraq as the representatives of Japan, with the support you provide to the United Nations and multinational forces.

“You will be the ones who will turn the Iraqi reconstruction work into a glorious chapter in the history of Japan. Please remember this as you continue to devote yourselves to the mission. I sincerely thank you all for performing difficult tasks.”

Abe arrived here Monday afternoon on the third leg of his five-nation tour of the Middle East.

His visit to the base was the first by a prime minister to ASDF members stationed overseas. His wife, Akie, accompanied him on the visit.

Meeting Monday night with Kuwait’s Emir Jabir al-Ahmad al-Jabir al-Sabah, Abe asked for continued cooperation on the ASDF mission.

“Cooperation of Japan and Kuwait toward Iraq’s reconstruction is important. We would like to continue offering our utmost cooperation,” the emir replied, according to Japanese officials.

The ASDF began airlift operations from the base in March 2004, initially to support the Ground Self-Defense Force unit in the southern Iraq city of Samawah. After the GSDF left last July, the ASDF expanded its mission to airlifting personnel and supplies for the U.N. and coalition forces to cover in Baghdad and Irbil in the north.

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