• Kyodo

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Defense Minister Taro Kono observed an exercise conducted by Maritime Self-Defense Force personnel Thursday ahead of their dispatch to the Middle East on an information-gathering mission later this month.

Commanding officers — including the captain of the Takanami destroyer, which is scheduled to be sent to the region — were drilled on how to assess various situations, operate the unit and communicate in case of an emergency as part of the exercise held at the MSDF’s Command and Staff College in Tokyo.

The government plans to go ahead with the mission, which is designed to help secure the safe passage of commercial ships through regional waters, despite the rising tensions between Washington and Tehran. Opposition lawmakers have called for its cancellation after Iran attacked U.S. troops in Iraq on Wednesday.

In an emergency, the MSDF could engage in maritime policing based on the Self-Defense Forces law, which allows personnel to take necessary action at sea, including the use of weapons, to safeguard Japanese lives and property.

“I want them to be fully prepared by repeating exercises before heading for (the Middle East),” Kono told reporters after observing the training.

The Takanami is set to leave Japan in early February after about four weeks of MSDF training, while P3-C patrol planes will start the intelligence-gathering mission in the Middle East by the end of this month.

The Cabinet approved the dispatch last month to play a role in maintaining peace in the Middle East without joining a U.S.-led coalition to guard ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz, a key oil and gas shipping lane.

The decision to carry out an independent operation was made to avoid hurting Japan’s friendly ties with Iran.

The mission’s areas of operation are limited to the Gulf of Oman, the northern part of the Arabian Sea, and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait connecting the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf are excluded given Iran’s opposition to the U.S.-led coalition’s initiative.

Japanese P3-C aircraft have already been deployed to the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia to crack down on pirates operating in the area.

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