SDF holds first overseas rescue drills during Cobra Gold in Thailand

Kyodo

Based on new security laws that took effect last year, the Self-Defense Forces are holding their first armed overseas rescue drills for security situations or natural disasters that endanger Japanese.

Part of the drill, carried out in central Thailand as part of Cobra Gold, the annual military exercise co-hosted by Thailand and the United States, was opened to the media on Sunday.

The legislation eases limits imposed by the recently reinterpreted war-renouncing Constitution so the SDF can play a greater role overseas. This includes restrictions on weapons use to protect Japanese.

The SDF, however, did not allow the media to watch troops using weapons during the multilateral drill.

Before the new laws, SDF troops were limited to “transporting” Japanese nationals to safety during overseas emergencies. Now they can use weapons during rescue missions and protect foreign people as well, under certain conditions.

Sunday’s drill was based on a scenario in which a natural disaster creates political instability somewhere overseas. The SDF troops escorted Japanese and U.S. citizens to an airport where they boarded a C-130 transport airplane.

As part of the drill, local residents blocked the road to the airport and SDF troops responded by threatening to use force.

“We were able to collaborate with the United States and other countries and it was meaningful training,” said Col. Hiroyuki Kawaguchi of the Ground Self-Defense Force, who was in command of the drill.

Around 130 personnel from the Ground, Air and Maritime self-defense forces are participating in Cobra Gold at the Utapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield, about 150 km (90 miles) southeast of Bangkok, and elsewhere in Thailand.

Cobra Gold began last Tuesday and is scheduled to end on Friday. It involves Thailand, the United States, Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and Malaysia as direct participants. Japanese troops have taken part in the multilateral exercise since 2005.