- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 9, 2003

TOKYO (AP) — Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Cabinet yesterday approved the deployment of about 1,000 soldiers to help with the reconstruction of Iraq, the biggest commitment of Japanese troops overseas since World War II.

In a nationally televised news conference, Mr. Koizumi explained his decision to a public that has opposed the action because of concerns that it would risk troops’ lives and make Japan a more likely target for international terrorist groups.

“We are not going to war,” Mr. Koizumi said. “The situation in Iraq is severe. We know it is not necessarily safe. But our Self-Defense Forces must still fulfill this mission.”

The Bush administration said it was pleased by the announcement.

“We have continued to encourage more participation in our efforts in Iraq, and this is a welcome announcement, and we appreciate all that Japan has done to support our efforts in Iraq,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

Mr. Koizumi’s Cabinet held a special meeting yesterday to approve the mission to southeastern Iraq, where troops will restore water services, offer medical and other humanitarian assistance, and help rebuild schools and other infrastructure.

The dispatch will involve elements of Japan’s land, sea and air forces.

The outline announced yesterday left the timing of the dispatch open, although a small advance contingent was expected to leave before the end of the year. Japan’s defense minister was expected to set the date by early next week.

Under the plan, 600 ground troops will be sent, along with armored vehicles and up to six ships, including destroyers. Eight aircraft, including three C130 transport planes, also will be deployed.

The total number of troops would be about 1,000, making it the largest overseas deployment since World War II, according to the Defense Agency.

The troops will stay for six months to one year and, as defensive measures, carry rocket-propelled grenade launchers and other arms that Japanese peacekeepers never have used, reports in major newspapers said, quoting unnamed sources.

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