Japanese defence chief outlines new responsibilities for troops sent to South Sudan
It is the first time that SDF troops have been given a mandate to carry out expanded tasks under Japan’s new security legislation
Japanese Defence Minister Tomomi Inada on Saturday emphasised the importance of new responsibilities assigned to the Ground Self-Defence Force, prior to the departure of personnel for a UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan.
The government decided on Tuesday to assign the new responsibilities – rescuing UN staff and others under attack, and playing a bigger role in the protection of UN peacekeepers’ camps – to the GSDF unit, which is primarily tasked with building roads and other infrastructure in conflict-mired South Sudan.
“It will embark on a new step in the history of the Self-Defence Forces’ international peacekeeping cooperation,” Inada said at a send-off ceremony at the GSDF’s Aomori garrison in the northeastern Japan city of Aomori.
The unit of about 350 members will be dispatched to South Sudan in groups starting Sunday. Of the total, around 60 members from the GSDF’s 5th Infantry Regiment, based in Aomori, have been assigned the new tasks.
The team is the 11th batch for Japanese peacekeeping activities in South Sudan since 2012 under the UN mission, called UNMISS. The troops will be prepared to perform the new assignments from December 12, when they officially take over from the current 10th unit.
A group of citizens gathered outside JR Aomori Station to protest against the new assignments, holding a banner proclaiming: “Do not send the SDF members to South Sudan!”
It is the first time that SDF troops have been given a mandate to carry out expanded tasks under Japan’s new security legislation that came into force in March. The new assignments are in line with broadened criteria covering the use of weapons.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has said the legislation will lead Japan to more actively contribute to regional security and international peace-building efforts, but critics fear the changes could erode the pacifist Constitution and embroil Japanese troops in overseas military actions for the first time since the second world war.
Inada said the new assignments would enhance the safety not only of Japanese nationals in South Sudan, where sporadic clashes occur, but the troops themselves as they are now better prepared for emergencies.
The ceremony was attended by around 300 people including high-ranking officers such as Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano, chief of the SDF Joint Staff.
Colonel Yoshiro Tanaka, 46, who is leading the team, told reporters that the personnel have nothing to fear after displaying a high level of skill during training.
“We will use all necessary means to gather information to secure our members’ safety,” Tanaka said.