Washington – Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday hailed relief efforts by Japanese and American troops in the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan as a sign of the "special bond" between their countries.
In a joint statement marking 10 years since the disaster, they looked back on search-and-rescue operations and efforts to provide victims with supplies and transportation by the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military, as well as the response to the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
"Then, as now, our joint efforts hold a special place in the hearts and memories of both our peoples — a testament to the special bond and the unshakeable friendship that is the Japan-U.S. alliance," they said.
At the peak of the cooperation, dubbed "Operation Tomodachi," the United States had 24,000 personnel, 190 aircraft, and 24 Navy ships supporting relief efforts.
Biden, who at the time was vice president under Barack Obama, visited Miyagi Prefecture's disaster-hit Natori and Sendai five months after the magnitude 9 quake struck the northeastern region on March 11, 2011.
There, the joint statement said, Biden saw "the incredible strength and resilience of the Japanese people."
"We must not forget that, even after 10 years, many of those affected continue to struggle in the wake of the disaster," the leaders said.
"In support of these individuals and to honor those we lost, Japan and the United States will continue to move forward shoulder-to-shoulder as 'tomodachi' (friends) to finish the reconstruction of the Tohoku region and to realize a better future for us all."
Other U.S. officials shared similar sentiments on the anniversary of the disaster.
"Americans are proud to have supported Japan in the aftermath of the March 11 disaster," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. Operation Tomodachi was "a reflection of our enduring commitment to and bond with the people of Japan."
"U.S. Forces Japan was honored to support the government of Japan and Japan's Self-Defense Forces as part of Operation Tomodachi," Lt. Gen Kevin Schneider, commander of U.S. forces stationed in Japan, said in a video message on Twitter. "As we remember the tragic events of March 2011, we renew our commitment to this important alliance."
"For over six decades, the U.S.-Japan alliance has been the cornerstone of peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region," Blinken said, adding, "The American and Japanese people share an unwavering friendship, and we will continue to stand strong together in the face of any adversity to come."
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who will visit Japan for three days from Monday for bilateral talks, said in a tweet "10 years ago, our Japanese friends experienced one of their most difficult challenges in recent history, and they're still dealing with it today."
"I look forward to visiting next week, and I hope Japan will always know that the U.S. will be ready to assist should the need recur," Austin added.
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