KYODO, STAFF REPORT – A total of 54 Self-Defense Forces members deployed overseas on Iraq- and Afghanistan-related missions in the first decade of this millennium killed themselves, according to the Defense Ministry.
The ministry disclosed the figures on Wednesday during a special Lower House panel that is deliberating legislation to expand the scope of the SDF’s overseas operations.
However, the ministry did not make clear how many of the suicides occurred during deployments.
Critics argue the Abe administration’s proposed changes could put troops’ lives at greater risk.
Of the total, 25 were Maritime Self-Defense Force members who served in a refueling mission in the Indian Ocean. The remainder comprised 21 Ground Self-Defense Force and eight Air Self-Defense Force members, all involved in humanitarian and reconstruction efforts in Iraq.
The ministry said it is “difficult” to link their suicides solely to their overseas missions because many factors tend to be at play when an individual takes his or her own life.
The enactment of a special anti-terrorism law in October 2001 paved the way for the SDF to engage in a refueling mission in the Indian Ocean in support of U.S.-led antiterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan.
The suicide rate is lower than figures from the United States. The Los Angeles Times has reported that the annual U.S. suicide rate of war veterans is 29.5 per 100,000 veterans.
In the United States, Kyodo News has reported that in 2012 alone, 320 serving soldiers took their own lives. There is insufficient detail in the Japanese figures to make a direct comparison. But a total of 22,000 SDF personnel took part in Japan’s noncombat missions.
About 13,000 MSDF members took part in a mission to supply fuel and water from MSDF ships to foreign vessels in anti-terrorism operations in the region from December 2001 to January 2010.
Japan sent roughly 5,500 GSDF members to Iraq from January 2004 to July 2006, where the GSDF provided water and medical aid, and helped repair infrastructure in the district around the city of Samawah.
The ASDF, meanwhile, began its mission in Iraq in March 2004 and withdrew in February 2009. About 3,500 of its members helped to airlift supplies and U.S. military personnel from Kuwait to Iraq.