NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – Authorities in Okinawa issued a protest to Japan’s central government on Wednesday after U.S. forces conducted parachute drop training the previous night at Kadena Air Base on the prefecture’s main island, despite a bilateral agreement that such drills should be held on a remote island.
The parachute drop conducted by U.S. forces at the Kadena base on Tuesday night was the fourth such exercise this year, despite a 1996 bilateral agreement that stipulates such training be carried out on Ie Island in the prefecture.
“We cannot help but feel strong resentment because the Kadena base has been continuously used for (parachute) training,” said Deputy Okinawa Gov. Kiichiro Jahana in a meeting with Foreign and Defense ministry officials at the prefectural government building. “There has been growing mistrust among people in Okinawa.”
The U.S. military in Japan defended the nighttime parachute training at Kadena, saying it was due to poor weather conditions around Ie. “While the primary drop zone is located at Ie Jima air field, bilateral agreements allow for the use of Kadena as an alternate location in exceptional cases, including poor weather,” U.S. Forces Japan said in a statement released Wednesday.
In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that the use of the Kadena base should be limited to exceptional cases and that the Defense Ministry had already conveyed such a view to the U.S. military.
Toshinori Tanaka, who heads the Defense Ministry’s Okinawa bureau, said the latest incident was problematic and that it would be discussed with the U.S. “We believe the U.S. explanation given so far is neither sufficient nor appropriate,” Tanaka said.
More than 20 U.S. servicemen parachuted down to the base by 8 p.m. on Tuesday, the prefectural government said. Earlier, at around 1:45 p.m., two U.S. Marines landed in a field about 100 meters outside the designated airport facility on Ie.
Okinawa hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, and many residents are opposed to the heavy presence due to concerns about base-related accidents and crime.
Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki told reporters that the parachute drop at Kadena was “a clear violation of the accord” and that the prefectural government has repeatedly called for a halt of such exercises at the base.
The Okinawa government also urged the central government officials to prevent U.S. military parachute landings in areas outside the designated facility on Ie.
Hiroshi Kawamura, the Foreign Ministry’s official in charge of Okinawan affairs, said it is “regrettable that the drill was conducted without a shared understanding between Japan and the United States.”