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The Maritime Self-Defense Force’s refueling mission in the Indian Ocean ended Friday, upon the expiration of the relevant law. The mission was in support of U.S.-led antiterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan that began in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

Instead, the Hatoyama administration has opted to increase direct aid to Afghanistan. It has pledged up to $5 billion in civilian aid over five years, a substantial contribution toward improving the welfare of the Afghan people.

The refueling mission was aimed at helping foreign naval vessels intercept ships carrying weapons for terrorists or smuggling narcotics on behalf of the Taliban. It has had very real costs. It has been reported that 16 MSDF members have committed suicide after taking part in the mission. The government should investigate the details of the MSDF’s activities, and those of the ships refueled by the Japanese force.

In the first phase of the mission, from December 2001 to early November 2007, the MSDF supplied 490,000 kiloliters of oil. Some 390,000 kiloliters were used to refuel U.S. naval ships, and of that, about 280,000 kiloliters were supplied in the 16-month period to March 2003, when U.S. naval ships were actively engaged in attack missions against targets in Afghanistan.

In the second phase, from February 2008 to last week, the MSDF supplied markedly less oil: about 27,000 kiloliters. Recently, the MSDF has refueled ships only five to seven times a month (and only once in October). In light of this decreasing demand, the Hatoyama administration’s decision to end the refueling mission appears reasonable.

As for the pledged $5 billion, it will go toward a range of areas, such as increasing security by way of assisting police, social rehabilitation of former Taliban soldiers through vocational training, strengthening infrastructure, increasing agricultural production and bettering medical services. Japan must deepen its cooperation with the international aid organizations now active in Afghanistan, and ensure that the money is not siphoned off by corrupt officials.

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