• Kyodo

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The United States and Britain called on Japan in February to send a military helicopter unit to Afghanistan to help the two countries maintain security there, Japanese and U.S. diplomatic sources said Friday.

The request is apparently for a Ground Self-Defense Force helicopter unit centered on large CH-47 choppers. The aircraft would transport U.S. and British troops and provide supplies for them.

A senior Japanese Defense Ministry official replied that it is difficult to comply with the request, the sources said.

The request from the U.S. and Britain apparently signals a desire for Japan to increase its participation in their military operations in Afghanistan amid continued security concerns in the area.

It also means the prolonged U.S. military commitment in Afghanistan and Iraq is becoming a serious burden on the U.S. military.

Even after the Defense Ministry official turned down the request, expectations remained high on the part of the United States for Japan to participate in the operation, prompting Tokyo to convey its reluctance to U.S. President George W. Bush via Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during their summit last month, they said.

The planned reply was not conveyed because Bush did not broach the issue during their talks at Camp David outside Washington, the sources said.

It is legally possible to send a GSDF chopper unit under the special antiterrorism measures law that was drawn up for Japan’s participation in the war, but the dispatch would force Tokyo to a make risky political bet, given the lingering security concerns in Afghanistan, one source said.

The U.S. is still hoping Japan will render assistance even now, the source said.

The Maritime Self-Defense Force has been providing free fuel and water to warships from the U.S. and other coalition forces in the Indian Ocean since December 2001 to support antiterrorism operations in Afghanistan under the special law.

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