View Full Version : Japanese soldiers train on U.S. shores

01-16-06, 06:00 AM
Japanese soldiers train on U.S. shores
By Tony Perry and Bruce Wallace
Los Angeles Times

CORONADO, Calif. — On a U.S. Navy base where the streets are named for bloody World War II battles on Pacific islands, American sailors and Marines are teaching Japanese soldiers the basics of mounting an amphibious assault.

Although the training is said to be somewhat rudimentary, it is meant to boost the capabilities of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and to further strengthen military ties between the two allies.

"They're a strong, tough light-infantry unit," Marine Lt. Col. Pete Owen said Thursday of the Japanese soldiers. "They're good guys to work with."

Japanese Col. Yoji Yamanaka, through an interpreter, said the training, called Exercise Iron Fist, will help his forces, which are banned by the nation's constitution from going to war.

The exercise comes at a time of rising tensions between China and Japan. And many Japanese defense planners have urged that the force be modernized beyond its post-World War II posture of preparing to defend the island nation to a more rapid-reaction force capable of projecting power to confront threats before they reach Japan's shores.

About 150 Japanese soldiers are spending three weeks at the Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado, where the main street is named Guadalcanal. The training will culminate in a 2 a.m. "assault" on a beach at Camp Pendleton with soldiers rushing ashore as if they were attacking an enemy.

The Japanese soldiers are being trained in driving and navigating small landing craft and swimming through rough surf. An average day begins with a 4,000-meter run and six-mile swim. Officers are being taught how to organize an assault.

The course is a condensed version of the 12-week regimen Marines undergo before they deploy for six months in the Western Pacific.

"We're just hitting the wave tops with the skills," said Marine Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Demuro, one of the instructors.

With 240,000 troops and an annual $50 billion budget, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces are often a cause of domestic political controversy as the Japanese debate their nation's role in the world and how dependent they should remain on the U.S. for security.

Still, the amphibious-assault training has spawned little public alarm.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's government has presented Iron Fist to the public as a necessary step in the defense of Japan's far-flung Ryuku island chain.

The nation's security establishment has long been worried about what it sees as ambiguity in Washington over whether an attack on islands far from the Japanese mainland would constitute an attack on Japan itself, requiring a U.S. military response.

The importance of defending the Ryukus has escalated over differences with China concerning the control of undersea natural gas fields in the East China Sea. Reports in recent months that the Chinese have conducted exploratory drilling in waters that Japanese maps show as Japanese territory have aroused great unease in Tokyo.

The ongoing political tensions have dampened any alarm that the anti-war stream of Japanese opinion might once have felt at seeing the Self Defense Forces expanding its capabilities.

Japan's last formal defense policy review, released in 2004, emphasized the importance of the Japanese forces being able to conduct operations with the U.S.

Marine instructors say Iron Fist will help the Japanese soldiers work as a team.

"When you suffer together, you start to bond together," Demuro said.