Cabinet to approve SDF dispatch to Middle East on Dec 23

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Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party endorsed Friday a draft plan for the dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces to the Middle East in a mission independent of a U.S.-led coalition, paving the way for cabinet approval scheduled for Dec 23.

The draft stresses the importance of ensuring the safety of navigation for Japan-related vessels operating in the Middle East and stipulates the dispatch of a helicopter carrier and patrol aircraft as well as some 250 SDF personnel to boost Japan’s intelligence gathering in the region.

The government will divert one of two P-3C patrol aircraft currently based in Djibouti for anti-piracy activities in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia for the new mission, according to the draft.

Areas for the SDF mission will be limited to the Gulf of Oman, the northern part of the Arabian Sea, as well as the Bab el-Mandeb Strait connecting the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, it said.

The government told an LDP meeting that it is arranging for the helicopter-carrying destroyer to be refueled at Salalah port in Oman.

Operations in the area, including drills, will start later this month, and the one-year mission can be extended with Cabinet approval.

In the event of emergencies, the draft said the SDF will engage in maritime policing action, based on Article 82 of the SDF law, which stipulates that troops may take necessary actions at sea to safeguard Japanese lives and property.

The draft leaves room for individual cases in which foreign vessels may also be protected by the SDF.

Sending SDF personnel overseas is a sensitive issue in Japan as entanglement in a foreign conflict could violate the country’s war-renouncing Constitution.

The government also said at the LDP meeting that it has asked the French military to allow injured SDF members in the mission to receive treatment at a military hospital in Djibouti.

Japan was reluctant to join a U.S.-led coalition to protect shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, a key sea lane through which around a fifth of the world’s oil passes, out of concern that doing so could hurt Tokyo’s friendly ties with Tehran.