U.S. Rethinks Marine Corps' Shift to Guam / Wants to Keep Command Unit in Okinawa
Satoshi Ogawa / Yomiuri Shimbun Correspondent
July 3, 2010
WASHINGTON--The U.S. government is reconsidering the relocation of some marine corps personnel from Okinawa Prefecture to Guam to enhance its rapid-response capability due to uncertain security conditions on the Korean Peninsula and in China, it has been learned.
The relocation, as stipulated under the 2006 Japan-U.S. Roadmap for Realignment Implementation, will proceed but the United States has drafted modifications to the unit composition of personnel bound for Guam as it wants to maintain a command-unit presence in Okinawa.
According to sources close to both governments, Washington has told Tokyo that some of the approximately 8,000 III Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) personnel now stationed in Okinawa will remain there--a change from the original plan of relocating all MEF personnel to Guam.
In place of the MEF personnel that will stay in Okinawa, Washington will shift a combat unit of equivalent size from Okinawa to Guam.
Under the road map agreed by both governments in 2006, units to relocate include the III MEF Command Element, the 3rd Marine Logistics Group Headquarters and the 1st Marine Air Wing Headquarters, among others.
Relocating all headquarters to Guam will leave no admiral-level officers on Okinawa, and the view that such a situation would hinder the operations of the MEF is gaining currency in Washington, U.S. government sources said.
According to sources close to both governments, the central pillar of the review drafted by the U.S. side is to have the 1st Marine Air Wing Headquarters, which commands helicopter and other units, remain in Okinawa.
In its place, an infantry unit of equivalent size would be relocated from Okinawa to Guam, according to the draft.
This infantry unit would be separate from the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF), under whose banner U.S. Marine Corps forces are usually deployed abroad.
The U.S. side said moving a combat unit out of Okinawa will result in fewer military exercises there, thus lessening the likelihood of accidents or offenses involving marines and lessening the burden on local people.
The exact size of the combat unit to be relocated to Guam is yet to be determined, but according to an environmental impact assessment report unveiled by the U.S. Navy in November on the construction of a base in Guam, about 1,856 personnel related to the 1st Marine Air Wing Headquarters were to be relocated.
The combat unit is likely to have close to the same number of personnel.
The details of the matter will be finalized in a review of the arrangement of U.S. forces abroad, which the U.S. Defense Department will compile by the end of this year.
The U.S. side said changes to the Okinawa-Guam relocation will have no impact on the Japan-U.S. accord to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station to the Henoko district in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture.
Lighter Okinawa burden likely
The 1st Marine Air Wing Headquarters, expected to remain in Okinawa Prefecture, is in charge of commanding aircraft combat units including squadrons stationed at the Futenma Air Station.
It is believed the purpose of the revision is to maintain the high level of operational capabilities of such air combat units in the prefecture, by retaining command headquarters there. This confirms that the U.S. military places great importance on the quick reaction capability of marines stationed in Okinawa.
Although this change has been prompted due to circumstances in the United States, if more combat units move out of Okinawa Prefecture, the burden borne by the prefecture and its residents may become lighter compared with the original plan.
However, handling of the matter remains unclear. Concerning the relocation of Futenma Air Station, the U.S. side has often repeated that the 2006 road map is the "best policy." It refused policy changes such as relocating the base outside the prefecture as requested by the former administration under Yukio Hatoyama.
Now the United States says it plans to change the makeup of the units to be transferred to Guam. Projecting the image that such changes are natural for military reasons could complicate government efforts to reach an agreement with Okinawa authorities on the Futenma relocation.
The consent of the people of Okinawa Prefecture, as well as local and prefectural governments, will be needed to realize the Futenma Air Station relocation.
While the U.S. government should not leave the Japanese government alone to deal with the issue, it also needs to provide detailed explanations on the matter.