Japanese troops to return to Tinian island 67 years after battle

Marines' drill sees Japanese soldiers back on island from where US launched atomic bombs

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 September, 2012, 4:45am

Japanese troops will finally return to Tinian this month to train alongside US marines, 67 years after soldiers from the two nations fought each other to gain control of the Pacific island, from where the twin nuclear attacks on Japan were eventually launched.

Members of Japan's Self-Defence Forces will be setting foot on the island for the first time since that bloody encounter and conduct drills with III Marine Expeditionary Force, with local media reporting that the exercises are designed to enhance Japan's military capabilities on "remote islands".

The term has been increasingly used by defence officials in Tokyo in recent months, coinciding with an upsurge in tensions between Japan and China, Taiwan and South Korea in a series of territorial disputes.

"Remote islands" can be used to describe territory that is marked on Japanese maps as the Senkaku Islands but which China terms the Diaoyu archipelago. Equally, the isolated but South Korean-controlled Dokdo islets, which Tokyo refers to as Takeshima, are at the heart of another territorial dispute.

"The joint exercises are part of co-operation between the Japanese GSDF and the US military in countering the rise of China in the Asia-Pacific region, and help improve defence capabilities on remote islands," the Saipan Tribune reported, quoting officials of the US 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.

The exercises on Tinian are part of the marines' Fall Patrol 2012 exercises and will also involve operations on neighbouring Saipan and Guam. The drill is scheduled to start on September 10 and last for 15 days. For part of that time, areas will be off-limits to civilians for live-fire exercises.

Tinian and Saipan are part of the Northern Mariana Islands, a US territory. Tinian was the site of a crucial battle in 1944 for control of its air strip that was later used to launch the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In a statement, the US Marines said that during the exercise on Tinian, "a platoon-sized element of Japan Ground Self-Defence Force soldiers will train alongside the MEU's approximately 2,200 Marines and sailors to develop greater inter-operability of forces and to enhance the security of Japan in accordance with the Japan-US Treaty of Mutual Co-operation and Security, signed January 19, 1960".

The drills will also include securing and defending an airfield, providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and evacuating non-combatants from a conflict zone.

Japan's Defence Ministry denied that the simulations are designed at military operations against a specific country.

"They are training exercises designed to enhance the capabilities of our forces and co-operation between them," Takaki Ono, a spokesman for the ministry, said.