• Kyodo

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Japan’s five-year-long operation to aid in the reconstruction of Iraq came to a formal conclusion Sunday with a ceremony commemorating the return of personnel from Kuwait to the Air Self-Defense Force base in Aichi Prefecture.

The personnel had been carrying out tasks related to Japan’s withdrawal since early December at a Kuwaiti base.

The ASDF used the Kuwait base to airlift goods and personnel for multinational forces and the U.N. to and from Iraq.

The personnel handling the pullout work, totaling about 130 members of the ASDF, started returning to the Komaki base in January in groups using commercial flights, with the last coming back on Saturday.

They had been conducting such tasks as taking down tents and disposing of equipment.

About 450 people, including relatives, attended the ceremony to welcome them home.

“We did our work, being careful not to leave a blemish on the reconstruction aid activities that had been carried out for many years. I feel like we accomplished a perfect game,” Col. Isami Sagae, who led the withdrawal unit in the final phase of the mission, told a news conference at the base.

The operations in Iraq, carried out under the authority of a special law enacted by the Diet in 2003, began in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion that the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi steadfastly supported.

In March 2004, shortly after Japanese ground troops were sent to Samawah in southern Iraq to provide reconstruction and humanitarian support, the ASDF began resupplying them from the base in Kuwait with C-130H transport aircraft.

After the Ground Self-Defense Force withdrew in July 2006, the ASDF switched to providing logistic support mostly for U.S.-led multinational forces by airlifting personnel and supplies between Kuwait and Iraqi cities, including Baghdad.

Of the roughly 46,500 personnel the ASDF had transported, more than 30,000 are believed to have been U.S. troops and other soldiers from multinational forces.

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