The Self-Defense Forces on Thursday partially opened to the media for the first time ongoing exercises aimed at being ready to protect Japanese citizens overseas.
The training is in line with the SDF’s expanded role under Japan’s new security legislation, which came into effect in March amid controversy, with critics fearing the changes could draw the defense forces into military action for the first time since World War II.
The exercises, which began Wednesday at the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Somagahara training range in Gunma Prefecture, however, do not simulate situations where SDF personnel have to rescue Japanese nationals taken hostage.
Thursday’s drill involved a scenario in which SDF personnel, including the GSDF unit in charge of anti-terrorism measures, go to the aid of several Japanese nationals in a building surrounded by about 20 stone-throwing rioters.
The GSDF members gave warnings to the rioters in English that they would use force if necessary and deployed a noise-emitting device before leading the Japanese nationals into armored vehicles that whisked them away.
Future drills will include the use of warning shots, but this will not be open to the media to prevent revealing sensitive information to potential perpetrators.
While the country’s SDF law was revised in the wake of the hostage crisis in Algeria in January 2013 to allow troops to transport Japanese nationals by land, in addition to by aircraft and ships, protecting Japanese nationals was not allowed until the new legislation was passed.
Last month, the government decided to assign SDF personnel a controversial new security duty — rescuing U.N. staff and others under attack — during peacekeeping operations in conflict-mired South Sudan. The new role is in line with broadened criteria covering their use of weapons.
In such circumstances, SDF members can fire warning shots to try to make an armed group or rioters back off. They can also return fire if the group they are protecting is attacked or in imminent danger.
Previously, the use of weapons by SDF personnel during U.N. peacekeeping missions was limited to strict self-defense purposes and to avert danger.
The SDF’s role of protecting Japanese nationals is not restricted to peacekeeping operations. SDF personnel can also be dispatched at the foreign minister’s request to countries where Japanese citizens may be at risk due to terrorism or political upheaval.
As in the case of rescue missions during peacekeeping operations, the troops can return fire.