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The Marines are Pulling Out of Okinawa

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Updated October 30, 2005
By Jim Garamone

WASHINGTON,– Some 7,000 Marines of the headquarters of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force will relocate from Okinawa, Japan, to Guam over the next six years as part of recommendations accepted by the United States and Japan on October 29.

The recommendations come out of the "2 plus 2" meeting hosted by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and including the Japanese defense minister, Yoshinori Ohno; U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; and Japanese foreign minister Nobutaka Machimura.

The 2 plus 2 charts the course of the U.S.-Japanese Alliance. The recommendations address the roles, missions and capabilities the United States provides in defense of Japan and also those of Japan's Self-Defense Forces. The recommendations recognize Japan's increasing influence in the world and call for the Japanese to shoulder a greater role in global security.

"Like all alliances, this relationship must and is, in fact, evolving to remain strong and relevant," Rumsfeld said in a Pentagon news conference today. "It's our joint responsibility to manage the alliance's evolution, and we are getting that job done."

Japan's global involvement includes troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and being a member of the Six-Party Talks to counter North Korea's nuclear program. It is also a player in the ballistic-missile-defense field and is a valued ally in the fight against global terrorism. All these demonstrate "Japan's place as an important contributor to global, as well as regional, security in these still-early years of the 21st century," Rumsfeld said.

Overall recommendations from the meeting call for much closer Japanese-U.S. military ties, including close and continuous policy and operational coordination. Senior officials speaking on background said this is a major step forward.

Another step comes when Japanese forces institute joint commands in March 2006. This will allow Japanese ground-, air- and sea-defense forces to work more closely together, officials said. The Japanese step comes at a perfect time to build closer ties between Japan and the United States. Today's recommendations call for strengthened bilateral contingency planning, locating U.S. and Japanese together, enhancing information sharing, and improving interoperability.

They also call for expanded Japanese training in the United States. Currently, the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force travels to Alaska for training, and the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force exercises often with U.S. counterparts. The Ground Self-Defense Force does not currently exercise often with the United States, but senior officials see opportunities for that in Guam, Alaska, Hawaii and the continental United States.

The recommendations also call for more bilateral and multilateral exercises, especially to improve capabilities in air defense, counterterrorism, humanitarian-relief, peacekeeping and search-and-rescue operations, and in countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Force posture realignment is also a large part of the recommendations the leaders agreed upon in the talks. Just over 50,000 U.S. servicemembers are in Japan. The 7,000 Marines moving to Guam will bring that number down somewhat, but more U.S. forces will move within Japan than transfer elsewhere. The plan calls for U.S. and Japanese headquarters and capabilities to be located together. For example, Japan's Air Defense Command headquarters will move to Yokota Air Base, home of the U.S. 5th Air Force.

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