The government has decided to extend the deployment of the Air Self-Defense Force in Iraq until July 31, 2007. The ASDF started airlifts from Kuwait in March 2004 under a July 2003 ad hoc law to carry out Self-Defense Forces deployment for noncombat activities in Iraq. Initially the ASDF’s airlifts were for supporting Ground Self-Defense Force troops stationed in the Iraqi city of Samawah on a humanitarian and reconstruction assistance mission. Since the GSDF withdrew from Iraq in July, the nature of the ASDF’s activities in Iraq has changed. It is regrettable that the government made the decision without providing the Diet and the public with concrete information on the ASDF’s activities in Iraq.

The government’s decision follows the United Nations Security Council’s resolution in late November extending the mandate of the 160,000-member multinational force operating in Iraq by one year from Dec. 31. But the government has not explained why the ASDF deployment has to be extended when the U.S. Congress is increasingly skeptical about the Iraq war and a bipartisan study group in the United States has suggested withdrawal of U.S. combat units from Iraq by early 2008. It must also be noted that on the day of the government decision, Defense Agency chief Fumio Kyuma said “I am not inclined” to support the Iraq war.

ASDF C-130 air transports based in Kuwait are now transporting goods for the multinational force and the United Nations to Baghdad and Arbil, the latter in a northern Kurdish region. A newspaper report says that they are also flying to and from Tallil in southern Iraq. But the government does not disclose what goods the ASDF aircraft are carrying for what organizations. It takes the position that the ASDF can airlift soldiers of the multinational force as well as materials for humanitarian assistance.

The ASDF’s activities have deviated from the main purpose of the ad hoc law — humanitarian and reconstruction assistance — and crew members aboard the ASDF air transports are in harm’s way. The government must rethink its Iraq policy.

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