Report says SDF mission in Iraq was a ‘purely military operation’

Kyodo

Ground Self-Defense Force personnel faced shelling by mortars and rockets while engaging in reconstruction and humanitarian efforts in Iraq about 10 years ago, a mission described by the unit chief as a “purely military operation,” according to an internal GSDF report.

The report on the mission in Samawah from 2004 to 2006 could affect the Diet deliberations on the controversial security bills to expand the overseas role of the Self-Defense Forces.

Critics say that if the bills are passed, SDF personnel would come under greater risk. Under the war-renouncing Constitution, the SDF has never engaged in overseas combat.

In the 430-page document compiled in May 2008, the GSDF said its camp in Samawah was attacked with mortars and rockets more than 10 times.

The report says one such attack in October 2004, when a rocket penetrated an iron container used to store goods, may have been “only one step away from causing serious damage.”

No SDF personnel were killed or injured in Iraq.

About 5,500 GSDF personnel were sent to Iraq to provide water and medical aid and help repair infrastructure in Samawah. It was the first time the SDF had been sent to a country where fighting was still ongoing.

To send SDF personnel to the war-torn country, a special law was enacted authorizing the SDF to engage only in humanitarian and reconstruction operations, in areas designated as “noncombat” zones.

Yet according to the report, the GSDF said the situation in Samawah shortly after they arrived required them to be “vigilant,” citing the death of a Dutch soldier engaged in security duties in the area and an attack on local police.

Before the deployment, the GSDF troops were trained to use their weapons for self-defense, and to aim to render the target ineffective or unusable. They were also taught to “fire the moment they think they are in danger,” and some commanders were concerned that using weapons in Iraq could damage local people’s confidence in Japan.

The report also shows that the government sought to control information in the event of an emergency, with the SDF placing top priority on reporting the situation to the prime minister’s office.

The report was made available Sunday at the request of opposition parties, which said the document is “essential” in relation to the debate over the security bills.

The bills would allow the SDF to defend the United States and other allies that come under armed attack even when Japan itself is not.