NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – The U.S. military conducted a parachuting drill Thursday at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa’s main island for the third time this year, despite calls from the Japanese government and local authorities to suspend it due to safety concerns.
“It is regrettable. Japan urges the U.S. military to conduct the drill at the Ie Jima Auxiliary Airfield” based on a 1996 bilateral agreement, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters in Tokyo, referring to the base in a far less populated area of the prefecture.
The drill, held from around 7:30 a.m. Thursday, involved a total of 16 servicemen who parachuted down to the base from MC-130 aircraft. Similar exercises were held in April and May.
Safety concerns remain over the drill as local residents remember a 1965 incident in the Okinawa village of Yomitan, in which a young girl was fatally crushed by a trailer that had been parachuted down during a U.S. military exercise.
Under the 1996 accord, the U.S. military is allowed to conduct parachuting drills at the Ie Jima airfield, and the Japanese government has accepted such drills at Kadena in exceptional cases.
Tokyo has not received sufficient explanation from the United States for the use of Kadena in the latest drill, a government source said.
After confirming the drill, Kadena Mayor Hiroshi Toyama told reporters, “It is an act that ignores the voices of residents near the base. We can never tolerate it.”
Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga told reporters he is “indignant” over repeated U.S. parachuting drills at Kadena.
Antibase sentiment runs high in Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in the country, as the local and the central governments remain at odds over a planned U.S. base relocation within the prefecture.
Meanwhile, the U.S. forces in Japan said in a statement that the Ie auxiliary airfield is “the primary drop zone” for the parachute training.
But the statement also said, “Under certain circumstances, the U.S. military is required to use alternate drop zones,” such as the Kadena base.
At the Ie auxiliary airfield, the U.S. forces carried out parachute training 63 times this year.
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