NAIROBI - The government plans to station an intelligence officer at the Self-Defense Forces base in Djibouti to deal with antipiracy operations and gather information on terrorist activities and other security matters, a source familiar with Japan-U.S. relations said Saturday.
Arrangements are under way for the officer to work in coordination with U.S. military intelligence, the source said.
The move is intended as a long-term measure to secure the base by augmenting its antipiracy mission with other roles in the hopes it will lead to a greater Japanese presence in U.N. peacekeeping operations in the Middle East and Africa, the source added.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to improve the SDF’s profile in international peacekeeping efforts now that he has paved the way to legalize Japan’s use of collective self-defense by reinterpreting the Constitution earlier this month, and wants to use the tiny Horn of Africa country as a means to that end.
Abe’s team thinks the base must quickly establish a new intelligence role so the administration will have an excuse to keep using it, now that piracy incidents off Somalia have dropped sharply, the source said.
The SDF’s first full-fledged overseas base was set up in 2011 after Japan dispatched Maritime Self-Defense Force escort ships and P-3C surveillance aircraft in 2009 to protect commercial ships from pirates in the area. Japan joined U.S.- and British-led multinational forces there in 2013.
While more intelligence officers might be deployed, a senior MSDF officer is likely to be the first dispatched for the new role. The U.S., French and other militaries are also stationed in Djibouti, which might allow Japan to gain operational knowledge of other countries’ forces.
The officer is also expected to gather information that could be used to protect Japanese in emergencies, the source said. Tokyo felt helpless when 10 Japanese were killed in the Algeria hostage crisis in January last year. Other foreigners were also killed in the conflict.
The United States welcomes the envisaged intelligence cooperation as a move that could lead to stronger SDF involvement in the region, according to the source.
U.S. President Barack Obama asked Abe during their summit in Tokyo in April for the SDF to take a more active role in U.N. peacekeeping in Africa amid tensions being caused by the growing presence of Islamic extremists.